The four elements are, of course, concealed and need to be teased out of the poem itself. With a little careful reading, an observant reader can intuit that (1) the season is the autumn, (2) the location is outside, an exterior scene, (3) the time of day is doubtless dusk, and (4) the general "atmosphere" is sad. Actually, in the context of the diary, which mixes prose and poetry, Bashō explains that he is in ill-health and is setting out on a journey from which he may not return. In this case, the prose helps explain the poetry.
When Bashō began writing his poetry, he had inherited a form which was basically comic in artistic intent. These short poems were often strung together in long sequences, called renga, or linked verse, a communal form of expression involving a number of poets working together. Usually it was the most accomplished poet or teacher who wrote the opening verse, or hokku, which set the tone for the whole sequence. The assembled group of friends would add on to this verse, as best they could, following a series of complex and ingenious rules. Bashō himself was a professional teacher of haiku poetry, which is how he made his living, and he wrote hokku for his students, who learned from their teacher how to develop their own individual skills. Many, if not most, of Bashō's students were amateurs, from a variety of walks of life. This art was considered a very democratic one, that could be practiced by men and women of all social classes. Reading his philosophical and moving travel diaries, one forgets that Bashō often made these trips as a means of supporting himself, locating and teaching students all over Japan. Thus what we now refer to as haiku most often began, in Bashō's case, as hokku, relatively complex poems that were written to show more ingenuity, and often more profundity, than the poems of his disciples that would follow in the sequence. These hokku of Bashō came to stand alone, and the term haiku which we now employ eventually came to be used to describe them. The art of renga has more or less died out in the past hundred years or so, but the art of writing contemporary haiku still goes on.
Despite the fact that Bashō was a famous man during his own day, it seems surprising that so little is known about the details of his life. Incidentally, his artistic name "Bashō" refers to a kind of tree, with brittle leaves, an altogether appropriate image to characterize the subtle sense of transiency that characterizes his poetry. He came, apparently, from a minor samurai family, and he showed so much literary talent as a youngster that he was made an attendant for the son of the Lord of Iga province, an area now in Mie prefecture. Bashō thus received superior training in such traditional aristocratic pursuits as Japanese and Chinese classical literature, as well as calligraphy. While a teenager, the Lord's son suddenly died, and Bashō was given the task of taking his friend's memorial plaque to the great Buddhist monastery at Mt. Kōya, located in the mountains not far from Osaka, and still one of the great religious sites in Japan today. He never returned to his home province. Although details are sparse concerning this period in his life, Bashō apparently fled to Edo (the traditional name for modern Tokyo), may have married, and eventually settled down there as a teacher. His early poems which have been preserved were composed very much in the comic styles popular at the time, but eventually his poetry began to take on an added depth and luster which attracted a number of gifted students and practitioners.
How did Bashō come to change the tradition? In my view, it was through his introduction of some significant elements of Japan's great literary past into a more mundane and popular present. In one famous passage, he describes his art and the figures from the past who inspire him.