Speaking of Bashō’s famous frog poem, Nobuyuki Yuasa writes: “On the surface the poem describes an action of the frog and its after-effects — a perfect example of objectivity. But if you meditate long enough upon the poem, you will discover that the action thus described is not merely an external one, that it also exists internally, that the pond is, indeed, a mirror held up to reflect the author’s mind. Bashō explains this himself in the following way:
Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one—when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there. However well phrased your poetry may be, if your feeling is not natural—if the object and yourself are separate—then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit.
“To use Bashō’s own classification [writes Nobuyuki], variety, being the temporary, changeable element (ryūkō), is in the substance (jitsu) of the work [The Narrow Road to the Deep North]. Unity, on the other hand, is the permanent, unchangeable element existing in the essence (kyo) of the work. In other words, unity is invisible on the surface but it is the hidden vital force that shapes the work into a meaningful whole.”
It is an open question as to whether the growing taste of contemporary poets for not just surface but deep disunity, for chance operations and disjunctive modes, will be seen by future readers as a symptom of our era’s core disease, as a somewhat simplistic reflection of it, or as one of many agents of that disease.