|Author||Lucien Stryk and Noboru Fujiwara|
- - -
Translated by Lucien Stryk
with the assistance efNoboru Fujiwara
Swallow Press ~ Ohio University Press
Translation copyright © 1991 by Lucien Stryk
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved
Swallow Press/Ohio University Press books are printed on acid-free paper oo
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kobayashi, Issa, 1763-1827.
The dumpling field : haiku oflssa I translated by Lucien Stryk, with the
assistance ofNoboru Fujiwara.
ISBN 0-8040-0952-X. - ISBN 0-8040-0953-8 (pbk.)
1. Kobayashi, Issa, 1763-1827-Tianslations into English.
2. Haiku-Uanslations into English. I. Stryk, Lucien.
II. Fujiwara, Noboru, 1916-1989. III. Title.
To the Memory of
and for Theo,
of Issa's loyal company
For permission to use material included thanks are due the
editors and publishers of Amerilan Poetry Review, Colorado-North
Review, London Magazine, Mid-American Review, The Penguin Book
ef Zen Poetry (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press and Penguin
Books Ltd., 1977), and Of Pen and Ink and Paper Scraps (Swallow
Press/Ohio University Press, 1989).
The world? Moonlit
from the crane's bill.
I stroll by the Open Air Theater in Regent's Park, London,
and sit on a bench nearby to catch the poetry of A Midsummer Night's Dream this hazy midsummer evening, in walking
distance of the spot where Shakespeare's company first spoke
these lines. It sounds as if the first scene of act 4 has now
begun, and I imagine Titania's entrance with her attendants,
Peas-blossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustard-seed, and all the
other fairies. Droll Bottom, now an ass, coaxes one fairy to
s~ratch his head, another to fetch a "red-hipp'd humble bee
on the top of a thistle, and ... the honey-bag:' In Ass's Eden,
Bottom, loved by all, loves all in return. Soon will come his
rude awakening; restored to human shape he will have little
in common with fays and fairy queens.
Suddenly I am aware of a companion. One of London's
countless ragged wanderers sits happily beside me. He opens
one of several bags, takes out a sandwich and, after a few
chomps, begins sharing his fare with the gathering birds and
a gray-tail squirrel. He chuckles as they frisk for scraps, and
says he could now do with a good cup of tea. "Swig it morning, noon and night;' he says, "while the rest of 'em swig
from the bottle. Call me "Cuppa tea;' they do-it's a fact."
Off he goes, leaving me to the creatures still coveting traces
of bread, and I'm caught up again in the sounds of the play.
Two hundred years after Shakespeare first enchanted London with the wonder and sympathy of his dream, another poet
thousands of miles away was wetting his ink-~top.e and brushing poem on poem with wonder and sympathy for the world
of creatures large and small, loved and despised:
young sparrows Prince Horse trots close.
don't harm the fleas,
Silverfish escaping mothers,
Among the four greatest haiku poets ofJapan, Issa (1763-1827)
differs from the others, Basho (1644-1694), Buson (17151783), and Shiki (1867-1902) in many ways. Perhaps what
most distinguishes him are his tenderness and compassion.
Issa is best read in a well-trodden backyard, midsummer, filled
with flies, fireflies, wasps, mosquitoes and peas-blossoms,
cobwebs, moths, and mustard-seeds. For it is here, with birds,
cats, rabbits, dogs and squirrels nearby, he is most himself
Issa is necessary to us because his values, which must
become ours if we are to survive as humans, are those most
severely threatened in our world. At a moment when
summer-evening creatures are blasted with insect "zappers"
and dizzied with the stench of poison, he reminds us, over
and over, of the individual reality of each life destroyed. Yetand it is this which gives his poems pathos - he is not above
swatting a fly or mosquito, caught up in the small personal
drama of survival. But at how great a cost! Some of his best
pieces are elegies for creatures wantonly killed, some by
Each time I swat
a fly, I squint
at the mountain.
cruel, cruel, cruel.
Though he was as keen a traveler as his favorite Basho, forever
the itinerant poet, in Issa's case journeys were undertaken
because home was in the crudest sense denied him. His birthplace, to which he was passionately attached, was the source
of his finest lines. Like Basho and others he tried to establish
himself in Edo (now Tokyo), but he was for the most part
uneasy there, always at heart the country boy, his imagination kindled by nature.
Yataro Kobayashi, who took the pen-name Issa (Cup of
Tea), was the first son of a farmer ofKashiwabara in the province ofShinano (now Nagano Prefecture). He was educated
chiefly by a village teacher who wrote haiku under the penname Shimpo, exposing him at a very early age to the art.
His mother died when he was three, and five years later his
father remarried. The stepmother was insensitive to the child,
and in 1777 he left home for Tokyo to find work, often forced
to do most menial jobs. By 1787 he was studying haiku with
Chikua, a poet of the Basho- inspired Katsushika group, and
he began to distinguish himself. Following Chikua's death
in 1790, he decided -very much in emulation ofBasho - to
live as a poet, and spent the next ten years journeying.
He visited fellow writers on his way, exchanging ideas on
the art of haiku. On occasion he brought otlt a collection of
his verse. In 1801, when his father died, he wrote Diary of
My Father's Death. His father's wish was that he should settle
in the old home in Kashiwabara, but problems with his stepmother and half-brother, who lived there, made tllls impossible, and he was unable to move back until 1813. In 1814 he
married a woman named Kiku, and they had four children
in quick'succession. None survived. The birth and death of
the second of these, his daughter Sato, inspired him to write
Spring qf My Life (1819), perhaps his best-known work: a
haibun (haiku mixed with prose), it is an account of what was
to him his most important year. He continued writing haiku,
but his last years were saddened by the death ofKiku in 1823.
x i ii
He married again in 1824, but was soon divorced. In 1827,
his house burnt down, and in poverty and heartbroken, he
died, survived by a third wife and unborn child.
In a life of countless misfortunes, perhaps the greatest was
that as unwanted stepson after his beloved father's death, Issa
was denied a place in his family home, which embittered his
life for many years. Then the death of his children, one after
the other, devastated his spirit. Things which other perhaps
less emotional men might have taken in stride, he could not
overcome, and in poem after poem we find him succumbing:
them all, all how cold.
How he must have envied Basho's Zen detachment, Buson's
unruffled striving for perfection. There is nothing heroic
about Issa, his art is never cold: to live, he discovered, is to
suffer, to be poet is to record that suffering. Some who go
to art for lives larger than their own may think Issa's poetry
soft, sentimental, but one thing he can do better than anyone
is stir us with the knowledge that a painful, impoverished
life can have moments of generous warmth, even gaiety:
I'm leaving now you can make love,
Issa's output, when compared with others, was prodigious.
He wrote scores of haiku, many more than Basho. Indeed
he wrote compulsively, and those who have no taste for casual
insights might think some pieces less than poems:
after anotherhow stupid.
Yet who would wish him silent at such moments, contrasting
the ordinary so sharply with the profound:
Where there are humans
you'll find flies,
And would a man's spirit be fully expressed if only the depths
were revealed? He could not help the ever-rising lightness
above misery, could not resist poking fun, chiefly at himself
Issa was always ready to acknowledge a debt to Basho, and
although like him he was to have disciples, he advised them
not to follow his practice but emulate the master. He was at
all times conscious of the difference between Basha and
himself: Issa's art, never exalted, is bold in its use of common
idiom and filled with ordinary details of everyday life. There
is ever-present wit and constant personification, and though
he clowns the laughter is never cruel. The poverty of his life,
its many traumas, all with their sharp effect, led him to sympathize with all, neighbor and insect. He was after all a Shinshu Buddhist, and like all the sect's practitioners took seriously
the doctrine's faith in the sacredness of life, as expressed in the
Vinaya-pitaka section of the Tripitaka, the Bible of Buddhism.
How can you, foolish men, dig the ground ... ?
There are living things in the ground. How can you,
foolish men, fell a tree? There are living things in
the tree. Whatever man should intentionally deprive
a breathing thing of life, there is an offence of
Haiku structure had become by Issa'~ time a profound orthodoxy: seventeen syllables arranged precisely 5-7-5, two
elements divided by a break (kireji - cutting word-which in
English is best rendered by punctuation): the first element,
the object, condition or situation; the second, preceded by
kireji, the vital perception. The desired effect was, and has
remained, a moment in its crystallized state, a distillation of
impressions, including seasonal, all related to transcendent
unity. There is little doubt, therefore, that the poet is encouraged to seek totality of experience. Haiku is meant to snare
life's keenest visions, one after another, high and low, fair and
foul, strong and weak, manifesting the importance of each,
taking care not to choose the "poetic" while at the same time
Issa gives us perhaps the largest, most varied gamut of experience amongst all his fellow artists, not because he lived
more or was a greater hand with words, but because he had
the deepest need to clarify for himself the meaning of all that
could be seen and felt. Although he did not train, as Basha
did, under a Zen master, Buddhist he was, and as one of the
elder poet's most devoted admirers, he could not help bringing to his work those attitudes unique to Zen. Indeed Basho,
as modern haiku's virtual creator, assured the predominance
in this art of the principles and aesthetic long associated with
the ancient sect.
What are these principles and what is that aesthetic, as found
in the poems of one not Zennist but living in a world permeated by its ideals? And, of equal importance, what have all
works of art touched by Zen in common? What distinguishes
them from works their equal yet not related? Here is the Rinzai
Zen master Tenzan Yasuda's reply to just such questic)ns, asked
some years ago at his temple, the Joeiji, in Yamaguchi:
examine this picture ("Fisherman and Woodcutter"
by Sesshu): of all the artist's pictures, this is my
· favorite. The boat at the fisherman's back tells us his
occupation, the bundle of firewood behind the
woodcutter tells his. The fisherman is drawn with
only three strokes of the brush, the woodcutter with
five. You couldn't ask for greater concision. And
these two men, what are they talking about? In all
probability, and this the atmosphere of the picture
suggests, they are discussing something very important, something beneath the surface of daily life.
How do I know? Why, every one ofSesshu's brush
strokes tells me . . . . Western art has volume and
richness when it is good. Yet to me it is too thickly
encumbered by what is dispensable. It's as if the
Western artist were trying to hide something, not
Leaving aside the provocative conclusion of the master's
comment, we are struck first by the high place given concision as aesthetic ideal-for Zeµnist, less is truly more. What
becomes evident at once, and is most significant, is the
desirability of participation in the work, the viewer's or
reader's active penetration into the creative process. Suggestion, so essential to all arts associated with Zen, is central to
haiku. Why this should be is hard to explain, but poems most
appreciated are those proving most personal to the reader,
a crumb of life discovered suddenly. Here is a piece by
Boncho, who died fifty years before Issa's birth:
Nightingale my clogs
stick in the mud.
What expresses cosmic truth in the most direct and
concise way- that is the heart of Zen art. Please
That the poet, transfixed by bird-song, is deeply sensitive
would be apparent to all practiced readers. One extra word
would have spoiled the impression, proved intolerable. The
poem which most fully invites involvement, all else equal,
is bound to be most admired. Here is Basha:
all that remains
of soldiers' dreams.
Perhaps responsible for the five centuries of haiku has been
its capacity to inspire such very different sensibilities. Its first
practitioners, Sogi (1421-1502), Sokan (1458-1546), and Moritake (14 72-1549) had the task of establishing as legitimate form
an element drawn from the reigning tanka, which was strictly
structured as a pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. Along with the
choka and sedoka, the tanka was prominent in the earliest collection ofJapanese poetry, the eighth century Manyoshu. It must
have taken daring of a sort, in a society so rule-bound, to break
up ancient forms in hope of revitalization. If the haiku of its
first makers, important as it was, had little appeal to Basho
and his successors, they always spoke gratefully of it. From
the very start, largely due to Basho, haiku at its best was seen
as revelatory, possessing qualities in common with other arts
based on an essentially Zen aesthetic: simplicity, directness,
naturalness, profundity. And each poem had its dominant
mood, one of four subtly categorized: sabi (isolation), wabi
(poverty), aware (impermanence), yugen (mystery). To haiku's
finest artists its brevity was seen less as barrier than challenge
to the imagination, demanding that however broad in implication the poem would have to be of single impact.
For Zennists like Basha the haiku event was realized in a
state of near meditation, similar to the monastic practice of
mind-pointing. In the earliest stage of training the disciple
might be asked to point the mind at various objects, continuing until it stops wandering, associating, metaphorizingin short, wobbling. The mind penetrates the object ever more
deeply, until one with it; the state of muga, as such identification is known in Zen, is attained. Little in Issa's background
as Shinshu Buddhist would have led to such ambition, let
alone effort, for his sect, most liberal of all, in making altruistic
social contact among its most important goals would have
been inclined to discourage the necessary solitariness and
abstemiousness of Zen. But Issa's inspiration was Basho, and
the great poet's comments on the art of life and poetry,
faithfully recorded by disciples, were held sacred. Thus his
adoption of Zen attitudes was natural. If through deep human
bondage he found it impossible to live freely as the unattached
Basha, he could nevertheless approach the events oflife with
the hope of memorializing the most important of them.
Though Issa is considered the simplest of haiku's famous
four, he too is capable of reaching depths, and is honored as
being closest to the common man, sharing in the everyday
world all know and suffer. It is chiefly for that he is most
loved. And yet there arc those who appear to regatd him as
excessivly soft. Such a puzzling attitude is by no means
uncommon in Japan, even among Zennists, whose view is
based on a principle rooted in doctrine: the need to achieve
and thereafter constantly to practice non-attachment, of the
kind which might help overcome serious mental problems
beyond the numerous small difficulties of existing. Among
the stigma categorized are the "stepson mentality;' and "poverty complex;' both of which are said to have possessed him.
xv j i
A sudden chill in our room my dead wife's
And here Shiki:
gods, Buddhalies, lies, lies.
Often one so possessed is encouraged to seek guidance of a
Zen master, and ifin such context one compares Issa's life and
work with that of others, one must concede that he might indeed have been helped. But would we, then, have the poems?
Those who care most for art, East or West, would wish the
artist a happy, carefree life, but often the tensions of a life are
the very source of uniqueness. Iflssa remained attached fatally
to things "unworthy;' it is that which lay behind his overwhelming compassion, which was not limited to fellow
humans. He was the poet of the ignored, the despised, and
his eye-keen as his heart was large-was capable of the
Don't kill the flyit wrings its hands,
Such poems have had lasting impact on Japanese literature as
a whole, and it is not surprising to find modern poets such
as the Zennist Shinkichi Takahashi acknowledging a debt to
Issa. Here is Takahashi at his compassionate best, in "Camel":
The camel's humps
shifted with clouds.
from formal orthodoxy, even flaunting syllabic limitations.
Indeed a contemporary haiku school, the Soun, offers Basho's
example as justification for its practice of "free verse:' Not
only did Issa conform to established pattern, he took care to
abide by all accepted norms of the art, including seasonal suggestion. As Basho's disciple he was aware of the well-nigh
canonical stature given B asho's comments on haiku's desired
qualities. Chief among these were use of colloquial language,
symbolic expression leading to _gravity of feeling, and above
all else unity of tone. He seemed especially taken with Basho's
elevation of the commonplace, ordinary things and events of
everyday life. Anything could be lifted and refined, the lower
the subject, the better.
Basho used highly suggestive terms to make points clear.
Good poems possessed karumi (lightness of touch), sabi
(dryness), hosomi (thinness), and with all that there had to be
shiori (warmth of feeling). He was to state:
You can learn about the pine only from the pine,
about the bamboo only from the bamboo. Observing an object you must leave aside preoccupation
with self, for if you do not, you impose yourself,
hence do not learn from it. The object and you must
become one, and from this oneness comes the· poem.
Issa's range, as we have seen, was unlimited and unconventional, yet in poetic form he was altogether a traditionalist,
more so than Basho, who was known to depart on occasion
Basho insisted on a highly conscious approach to composition, even to the extent of identifying essential elements,
among them utsuri (color), nioi (smell), hibiki (tone) and kurai
(grace). All, fused, were meant to assure harmony of feeling,
without which there could not be true poetry. IBroughout
his life Issa listened to the master, and learned.
Basho's striving for poetic harmony is especially clear in
his haibun, which match his verse in depth and imaginative
flight. His haibun are essentially travel sketches, most having
very suggestive titles: The Records efa Weather-Exposed Skeleton
(1684-5), A Visit to Kashima Shrine (1687), The Records of a
Travel-Worn Satchel (1688) and, best-known of all, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1689). Marvels of organic struc-
Such solitude beheads!
My arms stretch
beyond mountain peaks,
flame in the desert.
ture, they have been emulated by many, matched by none.
In spite ofits great interest, Issa's haibun, Oraga Haru (Spring
ofMy Life), is, apart from its haiku-among his finest-a simple record, throughout 1819, of daily toils and turmoils, as
the following excerpt reveals:
At the height ofjoy, comes sorrow-thus goes the
world. Like a small pine tree which hardly had half
the joy of a thousand years, our daughter Sato with
her second leafjust out, full oflaughter, was seized
by the cruel god of smallpox .... For awhile she
seemed to recover, then she grew weaker and weaker
... until finally, on the twenty-first day of the sixth
month, she left the world with the bloom of a
morning-glory. Her mother clasped her face and
sobbed-who would have blamed her. But the
child's time had come ... the flowing water would
not return, the fallen blossom would not return to
its branch. We tried to resign ourselves ... but could
not stop thinking of her, our love was so strong.
Darkness has fallen over the bench where I sit. Words from
the stage no longer drift my way. Actors and audience have
left to Puck's soft words, which will follow into their sleep:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumbered here ....
Now the creatures, in the spirit of the night, reclaim their
world. Somewhere far away, in time and space, a poet needs
why turn awayit's Issa.
World of dew?
and yet ...
The poet's venture into haibun was surely important, and
Spring ofMy Life does precisely what he had hoped, shoring
up events that meant most to him. Though somewhat sketchy, the work adds greatly to his output. His haibun, as well
as his poems, details his life moment by moment, giving a
full day-to-day sense ofhis humanity. And if compared with
his more austere company he sometimes, as result of intense
attachments, loses control, we love him all the more.
In these parts
grass also blooms.
Owls are calling,
to the fireflies.
all creeping things the bell of transience.
Don't weep, insects lovers, stars themselves,
Short night -
to me, to the mountain,
at vine's tip.
what do they want of
these wrinkled hands?
Where there are humans
you'll find flies,
a freeze in hell.
What a world,
where lotus flowers
pointing the way
are ploughed into a field.
with a radish.
Borrowing my house
a glance -
I'm leaving -
Watch it - you'll bump
now you can make love,
on that stone, fireflies.
From the bough
floating down river,
soaked with rain.
don't harm the flea,
why turn away -
Under cherry trees
in the dragonfly's eye -
Mokuboji Temple fireflies come even
In spring rain
how they carry on,
to the barking dog.
In my house
mice and fireflies
around scorched rocks -
by fleas, by flies,
Moist spring moon -
and it drips.
raise a finger
House burnt down -
under cherry blooms
dance in embers.
men scurry home.
Bound to a tree,
Early spring -
bawls to a firefly.
toward my door.
Rice-field dawn -
would you were here,
my dead father.
into dusk's haze.
Fuji dusk -
back to back,
young sparrows -
frogs are chanting.
Prince Horse trots close.
play with me.
the horse sniff
on the scale,
Each time I swat
In my old place
a fly, I squint
at the mountain.
Spring evening how bold the
Don't kill the fly it wrings
horned owl's stare.
its hands, its feet.
Author Lucien Stryk and Noboru Fujiwara Isbn 9780804009539 File size 4.02MB Year 1991 Pages 133 Language English File format PDF Category Poetry Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Koyashi Issa (1763-1827), long considered amoung Japans four greatest haiku poets (along with Basho, Buson, and Shiki) is probably the best loved. This collection of more than 360 haiku, arranged seasonally and many rendered into English for the first time, attempts to reveal the full range of the poets extraordinary life as if it were concentrated within a year. Issas haiku are traditionally structured, of seventeen syllables in the original, tonally unified and highly suggestive, yet they differ from those of fellow haikuists in a few important respects. Given his character, they had to. The poet never tries to hide his feelings, and again and again we find him grieving over the lot of the unfortunate – of any and all species. No poet, of any time or culture, feels greater compassion for his life of creatures. No Buddhist-Issa was to become a monk — acts out the credos of his faith more genuinely. The poet, a devoted follower of Basho, traveled throughout the country, often doing the most menial work, seeking spiritual companionship and inspiration for the thousands of haiku he was to write. Yet his emotional and creative life was centered in his native place, Kashiwabara in the province of Shinano (now Nagano Prefecture), and his severest pain was the result of being denied a place in his dead fathers house by his stepmother and half brother. By the time he was able to share the house of his beloved father, Issa had experienced more than most the grief of living, and much more was to follow with the death of his wife and their four children. In the face of all he continued to write, celebrating passionately the lives of all that shared the world with him, all creatures, all humans. Small wonder that Issa is so greatly loved by his fellow poets throughout the world, and by poetry lovers of all ages. Download (4.02MB) Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry Nesreen Akhtarkhavari, Anthony A. Lee Love Is My Savior: The Arabic Poems of Rumi In Search of a Prophet A More Beautiful Question: The Spiritual in Poetry and Art Load more posts