Peter Robinson

Deep North (1993)

‘What silence
penetrating rock
the voice of the cicada’
Matsuo Bashô

On the platform at Sendai
waiting brought up this example:
were there one or more voices
in his cicada verses,
silence penetrating rock
at a local mountain temple?
‘They’re plural,’ you’d reply.

And were close readers
of the English graveyard school
code-breakers redeployed
once hostilities had ended?
I wondered was it true,
your half-serious theory
that Bashô was a government spy?

Wood stakes at Yamadera
were memorials for their dead
with new names to fend off terror
at death, you might have said
staring at rice fields and roofshapes
from the highest viewing platform—
inspiration for a visiting poet.

But I would be obliged to wait,
let sound sink into stone.
A noise of gunfire, I supposed,
uncovered thoughts of someone
dead ten years, but no less hurt
at warfare and war’s echoes.
It was just a birdscarer’s report.

Robinson’s note to ‘Deep North’ as it appeared in Enlightened Groves: Essays in Honour of Professor Zenzo Suzuki, ed. E. Hara, H. Ozawa, and P. Robinson (Tokyo: Shohakusha, 1996):

Professor Zenzo Suzuki is the ‘you’ in ‘Deep North’. The poem’s occasion was a visit we made to Yamadera with Yasushi Saito, and the Tomlinsons. My version of Basho’s haiku from The Narrow Road to the Deep North tries to preserve an ambiguity about the number of cicadas and (my own confusion) whether it is the sound or the silence that penetrates the rock. The second verse alludes to William H. Epstein’s ‘Counter-Intelligence: Cold-War Criticism and Eighteenth-Century Studies’ (ELH 57, 1, Spring 1990) which Prof Suzuki had given me to read. The theory that Bashô was spying on his visit to Tohoku also appears in ‘Yamadera’, the fourth part of ‘Zipangu’ (Jubilation , OUP: 1995, 36-8), Charles Tomlinson’s account of our day out, as does what he calls ‘a whole army / of automatic scarecrows’. The ‘someone’ in my final verse is Vittorio Sereni, an Italian poet whose work we had been discussing on the mountain.


‘Deep North’ was first published in Stand Magazine 35.1 (1993-94) and is collected in Lost and Found (1997), available from Carcanet here. As Robinson’s Enlightened Groves note points out, the ‘Yamadera’ section of Charles Tomlinson’s ‘Zipangu’ recounts the same visit to Yamadera. Robinson re-visits Yamadera after an absence of ten years, and alludes to ‘Deep North’, in Silence Revisited.

For a note about Peter Robinson and his titles in print see At New Year.








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Peter Robinsons books
at Carcanet Press
(click on the cover or the title to buy
or for further information)

Peter Robinson, Selected Poems
Selected Poems (2003)

Peter Robinson, About Time Too
About Time Too (2001)

Peter Robinson, Lost and Found
Lost and Found (1997)

Peter Robinson, Entertaining Fates
Entertaining Fates (1992)

Peter Robinson, This Other Life
This Other Life (1988)