GUEST BLOG—Armchair Travel with the Great Poets

By Lisa Pasold

Winter nights, one of my greatest pleasures is looking forward to summer travels—and my favourite companions on these cold nights are poets who have voyaged before me. One of my most enduring affairs is with the work of Japanese 17th-century poet-monk Bashō. My motto is his line: “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

Poetry about travel—whether from Bashō, who wrote while walking along the Narrow Road to the North, or William Wordworth, who found poetic inspiration in his walks through the English Lake District—examines the external world but also delves deep within.

Breugel LandschaftThis summer at Toronto Pursuits, I’m looking forward to discussing how Poetry of the Voyage can inspire us. St. Augustine says, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Perhaps travel is how we learn to be present for the poetry of living—certainly Bashō used his travels as a constant reminder to both observe the details of daily life and contemplate the bigger picture.

In our own time, Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson wrote Kinds of Water to examine her experience walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route—to be present and to acquire distance, at the same time. But John Donne considered travel mostly as a metaphor in his lovely verses, useful for all manner of geographic and sexual innuendo. And Elizabeth Bishop found herself writing about the idea of home after travelling to faraway Brazil.

Why do we travel? And what, exactly, do poetic “travel writers” have in common? The more I read these particular poets, the more I feel that poets who write about travel— imaginary or actual—are figuring out a way forward through their lives. What do you think?

Basho walkingThough I’ve worked as a travel writer, and love reading guidebooks (especially to find the address of a museum or restaurant!) for real pointers on how to travel well and to traverse the landscape of life, the companionship of Donne, Bashō, Wordsworth, Bishop or Carson seems more useful than any guidebook.

Join the conversation about Poetry of the Voyage this July at Toronto Pursuits—let’s spend a week talking about the idea of travel, the motivation for our own voyages, and the meaning of these poems. Click here for more information and to register. See you in July! Meanwhile, I’ll be in my cosy armchair …

– Lisa

rsz_lisaLisa Pasold is a Canadian writer and journalist who lives part of the year in Paris. Her most recent book is Any Bright Horse, which was nominated for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry. Lisa also creates walking tours inspired by research for her books. She has led walks all over Paris, investigating the lives of artists & writers throughout the centuries in the City of Light. She has also created walks for Toronto and Saskatoon.

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