Today we move on to Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827). Of the four great Japanese haijin, much as I respect Basho and Buson and admire Shiki, I enjoy Issa. He is the most easily understood of the four, and the most human.
As you will see in the biographical sketch, Issa had his share of misery and more. His mother died when he was a baby and Henderson tells us his stepmother was “of the fairy-tale variety.” When his father died, his stepmother and half brother kept him from his inheritance for thirteen years. Later, his wife of ten years and all five of their children died. He remarried and divorced. He suffered a stroke and lost his ability to speak for a time. He remarried again, and his only surviving child was born after his death.
Margaret busied herself with her knitting. When the dark green sweater was finished, she would send it, along with some other homemade treats, to Paul Jr. He could wear the sweater under his army uniform and be just a little warmer while he strove to make everyone safer.
At the rap of the door knocker, Coral, the family’s cat, leaped off the couch and trotted into another room. Margaret set her knitting aside.
She picked it up again hours later, long after the army men and then the Rev. Hauser had gone. She had done her work so well, but it had been fated to be wasted.
She took up her scissors and snipped the yarn close to the sweater. The ball dropped to the floor, and as she went toward her bedroom she kicked the yarn out of her way. She folded tissue paper around the unfinished sweater and packed it away in a shirt box.
The young man had been gone for months; he was out of Coral’s thoughts unless she walked past his bedroom and caught his scent. All she knew was that she had a new toy, and she played with it all night.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
– Hannah Arendt
rises from ruined barn —
thunder still loud
This week we move on to Yosa (or Taniguchi) Buson (1716-1783). The link again takes you to a biography and you can click to read some of Buson’s poems.
To fill in some of the blanks, we turn again to Harold G. Henderson’s masterful book An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki. Henderson says the Japanese regard Buson as second in the haiku firmament only to Basho. Buson was multifaceted, like a diamond, and thus we cannot point to any one haiku and say it is typical of Buson.
Marie rushed from the kitchen at the back of her shotgun house through the bedroom. She gave the travel crib a quick glance as she raced into the living room to get the door. Whoever was banging on it, however rhythmically, was an enemy of the peace.
She threw the door wide and even before registering who stood there she stage-whispered, “Be quiet!”
Then she saw who it was.
It’s not a good idea to try to put your wife into a novel … not your latest wife anyway.
– Norman Mailer
no Perseids yet —
just the Milky Way
and a million stars
I think it would be valuable to spend some time looking at the four greatest names in haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. These haijin shaped haiku and set many of the standards we live by today. We’ll look at them chronologically.
First is Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). The link goes to a short biography and you can click through to some of his haiku at the top of the page.
In his indispensable book An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki, Harold G. Henderson tells us Basho created a new style of the poetry form renga. His first poem in this style set the stage for modern haiku: