on the roof of hell...

Another master of the haiku is Kobayashi Issa. His work has a bit of a cynical edge – laced with humor – built on sound and motion.

Issa’s writing leans toward a conflict between guilt and action – though I would in no way consider his work spiritual or religious. His is a purely human guilt. There’s a ground of Buddhism in his poetry, but it’s backdrop. He’s a writer of the real world.

As a poet, he wasn't disillusioned about his living in the world. Issa once wrote that he prayed to Buddha, yet he continued to kill mosquitoes. He understood his connection to all things.


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


      In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
      gazing at flowers.


A quiet life:

      Under my house
an inchworm
      measuring the joists.


      For you fleas too
the nights must be long,
      they must be lonely.


      Don't worry, spiders,
I keep house


      The cuckoo sings
to me, to the mountain,
      to me, to the mountain.


      Autumn moon –
a small boat
      drifting down the tide.

(trans. Robert Hass)


Rachel Dacus said...

Sam --

Thanks for posting this. I've been a fan of Issa's haiku since I was twelve years old. I like the way he often combines humor and pathos. The Hass translations are probably the best, but some of Sam Hamill's are also very good. Here's one of my favorite Issa poems, rendered by Hamill:

It is true even
among this world's insects:
some sing well, some not.

MisterJeemes said...

I agree with Rachel Dacus the sense of humor, but ... Issa sometimes uses the irony of fate too.