April 9, 2013

NPM 2013 - I is for Issa

It is not easy to find poets whose last name starts with an I but there is one - one of the leading haiku masters from Japan - Kobayashi Issa. He was born in 1762 and died in 1827. Remember that Basho lived from 1644-1694, so Issa came almost a few generations later and in some ways pushed the limits of what was acceptable as haiku back then. David G. Lanoue has an interesting article about Issa's haiku that talks about how radically different his haiku were in some ways compared to the two haiku masters who came before him - Basho and Buson. However, like the book description for Makoto Ueda's  book, Dew on the grass:The life and poetry of Kobayashi Issa, says: "While Basho with his mystic asceticism and Buson with his romantic aestheticism immeasurably enriched the haiku tradition, it was Issa who, with his bold individualism and all-embracing humanism, helped to modernize the form to a degree matched by no other poet."

Here are some haiku, most via this page that has categorized them by the season (kigo).


Moist spring moon -
raise a finger
and it drips.

Early spring -
stream flows
toward my door

Great moon
woven in plum scent,
all mine.

Frog and I,
to eyeball.

Reed warblers
sing the great river

A sheet of rain.
Only one man remains among
cherry blossom shadows
My empty face,
by lightning.

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.


Back gate opens
itself -
how long the day.

Heat waves -
his smile still
before me.

Summer night--
even the stars
are whispering to each other.

Step by step
up summer mountain -
suddenly the sea.

Cool breeze,
in a grass-blade.
Singing skylark -
that narrow path
leads to the sea.


Buddha Law,
in leaf dew.

Autumn wind -
mountain's shadow

Cries of wild geese,
spread about me.

Dawn - fog
of Mt. Asama spreads
on my table.

Stillness -
clouds peak
in the lake.

Passing wild geese,
lightening night
mountains of Shinano.

By lightning,
I creak
across the bridge.

Wild geese, homing
once more through smoke
of Mt. Asama.


Just by being,
I'm here -
in the snow-fall.

Lost in bamboo
but when moon lights -
my house

onto Mt. Kiso,
the Milky Way.

What a moon -
if only she were here,
my bitter wife.

Hailstones -
into the fire.

Faint, over the moonlit
slope, a frozen
temple gong. 

And here are a dozen other delightful haiku by Issa that I like, highlighting the beauty of life, in general and even the smallest of things (fleas, snails, spiders, and of course frogs ;-)), savoring them via our senses: sight, smells, sounds, and taste.

Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
but slowly, slowly.    

Don’t worry spiders,
I keep house
For you too fleas,
the night must be long
it must be lonely.    

Mosquito at my ear.
Does it think
I’m deaf?    

Come flies, have some rice.
May you too
enjoy a rich harvest.

From the bough
floating downriver,
insect song.

Even with insects--
some can sing,
some can't.

New Year's morning--
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

 New Year's Day— my
tumble down hut
is about the same.

Cherry blossoms in evening.

Ah well, today also
belongs to the past.

And these two are my favorites: 

Cool breeze,
in a grass-blade. 

The temple bells stop—

but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
I could go on and on since Issa wrote over 2000 haiku in his life time... but I'll leave you with three links
  1. This one is a searchable index of Issa's haiku that David G. Lanoue  translates and maintains. (Buy his book here if you want to thank him for his efforts; the Kindle version costs only $2.99).
  2. And this website has almost a hundred of Issa's haiku.
  3. And if you are really interested, this page has a number of links, some in English but many in Japanese, about Issa. (Disclaimer: I just found this page and did not click on any of the links therein.)

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