Two by Issa (18th century)
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.
Just below the pissing,
Drip, drip, drip,—
This is one of the best haiku ever written. It has everything in it. It overflows, overflowers.
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.