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Two by Issa (18th century)

September 28, 2009

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

Reginald Horace Blyth, born in England in 1898, died in Japan in 1964.

Following are two haiku by Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶), who lived from 1763 to 1828. He was associated with the Jôdoshinshû sect of Japanese Buddhism. I reproduce here the translations and commentaries on the poems by R.H. Blyth, whose masterwork Haiku—published in four volumes from 1949 to 1952, under the successive titles Volume 1: Eastern Culture, Volume 2: Spring, Volume 3:Summer-Autumn, and Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press)—re-introduced the form into the English-speaking world, influencing such writers (in America) as Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Richard Wright, to name only three. These volumes were later followed by a shorter, two-volume History of Haiku (1963), which further extended Blyth’s influence on poetry—and on thinking about Japan more generally—in the English-speaking world. The commentaries he provides in the latter work are notably succinct, and by turns gnomic, amusing, and exact. The book is, in short, pretty generally a delight to read.

The original Japanese, together with Blyth's romanization. His translation and commentary follow below.

Just below the pissing,
Drip, drip, drip,—
Iris flowers.

This is one of the best haiku ever written. It has everything in it. It overflows, overflowers.

Again, the original Japanese, with Blyth's romanization. His translation and commentary follow.

Again, the original Japanese, with Blyth's romanization. His translation and commentary follow.

A straw mat;
The Milky Way aslant
In the saucepan.

The greatness of Issa consists in his putting the Galaxy into the stew-pot.

N.B. The images and texts above are from R.H. Blyth’s History of Haiku (vol. 1): 388. For The Icebox, a Kyoto-based site devoted to haiku in English, click here. Readers curious as to my having mentioned Richard Wright, author of Native Son, in connection with haiku should have a look at a wonderful book, published posthumously and with an introduction by his daughter, called Haiku: This Other World. It collects 817 of the more than 4,000 haiku Wright wrote during the last two years of his life. For a link to Pure Land Haiku: The Art of Priest Issa, a book about Issa by David Lanoue, click here.

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