Consider the fact that in his time, Basho was far more obliged to compose a poem than writers today, who must fabricate something out of whole cloth. How shameful it must have been for him to travel to the most scenic spot in Japan and then leave without writing a single poem! But Basho wrote something no mediocre rhymester could: the volume of Narrow Roads of the North spread out before me.
I have always said that the greatest scenery kills writing. But there is something else I now know: the greatest scenery not only kills writing, it swallows up the 'I' as well. To be speechless before the greatest scenery is to have the whole of one's 'I' absorbed by it, to proceed in a daze, not knowing whether we are here or there. It steals our self; or rather, our self is drawn into it, to become lost in the dark unknown.
When we reach this point, there is no poetry, no scenery, no means to distinguish between what is self and what is other. I call this 'union'. The more lasting our union, the more of the Divine we receive, and the more of the Divine will be present in a poem we compose afterwards. As this union lasts, we begin to see that mountains and rivers, trees and plants, all possess the same life-force that we do.
In such realms, the poet must be satisfied with no poems. Is what I've read true-that Basho did not write a poem when he came to Matsushima? Or could I be wrong? For me this one volume can lead to salvation. Setting aside for a moment the question of whether my explanation has any merit, such were my feelings the night I spent at Matsushima. When I returned home and read over Narrow Roads, I saw that Basho wrote the following at Matsushima:
Is this the handiwork of Oyamatsumi in the ancient past of the mighty gods? Who could ever paint or describe in words the divine artistry of the Lord of Nature?**********
from Reading Basho at Matsushima by Kitamura Tokoku translated by Michael C. Brownstein in Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 45, No. 3. (Autumn, 1990), pp. 305-306.