Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective, David G. Lanoue

… Chapter 2, Anthropomorphism or Realism?…

… the difference between Basho and Issa…

cawing in the tree

are you a widow, crow?

Milky Way above1

… one of Basho’s most famous crow haikus:

on a bare branch

sits a crow…

autumn evening2

… in the first, poet and crow participate in the universe together and share existential possibilities and kinship… in the second, the poet channels his own loneliness and late stage of life through the crow… for Issa, animals are fellow travelers… for Basho, animals are symbolic of the human condition… of his condition…

… overall, this book has confirmed my sense that Issa is a “down to earth” poet… he keeps his poems grounded through anthropomorphism and a willingness to depict life in it’s every day sense…

… Issa observing the universal condition… every creature must “work” to survivie… food and shelter must be obtained and maintained… children must be conceived and fed and supported… life, for most creatures is work… we are blessed when we are one with the work that sustains our lives…


  1. Issa and the Meaning of Animals, p 99, translation David G. Lanoue [return]
  2. Issa and the Meaning of Animals, p 100, translation, David G. Lanoue [return]

Basho and His Interpreters, Selected Hokku with Commentary, Makoto Ueda

… a book i ordered a couple of weeks ago… i have decided to set The Analysis of Matter aside given that i will be traveling and won’t be able to concentrate as effectively as i would otherwise… i will read this book instead as i think it will be more digestible in short spurts… also, the spiritual dimensions of haiku may be helpful at this moment…

… the haiku as a stand alone poetic form grew out of renga, a form of linked verse composed by a group of poets gathered… the guest of honor initiates the sequence and each poet takes a turn composing subsequent phrases in the sequence… renga have been known to get as long as ten thousand verses but more usually were one hundred or less…

… i find myself a bit tired for concentration even on haiku…

The Essential Haiku, Notes

… continuing with my reading of the end notes of the book…

… i learn that the Japanese have a word, tani-watari, for the sound a Bush Warbler makes when flying from one valley to another…

… i learn about a book, The Karma of Words, written by William LeFleur, and order an inexpensive used copy… the subtitle is, Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan…

… this poem is discussed…

still alive

and frozen in one lump—

the sea slugs

… i am reminded that i received my copy of Rise Ye Sea Slugs!, by Robin D. Gill, which turned out to be nothing like what i thought it would be… i wish i could retrace my steps in purchasing the book because it’s a pretty humorous mistake and difference… what i thought i had purchased was a book that offered multiple translations of Japanese haiku, by well known poets, in an effort to get at the difficult to translate subtleties of the poems… what i received was a book of haiku, with large amounts of explanatory text of various kinds, solely on the subject of sea slugs!… oh my… i’ve read snippets and am intrigued… when i am done with TEH, i will start in on the sea slugs… the note that Haas provides on the above poem tells me that the sea slug is usually a humorous reference in Japanese poetry… indeed…

… i learn that Night Herons are associated with the uncanny by the Japanese…

… on the recommendation of Haas, i also purchase a previously owned copy of Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary… i think i am officially diving down a rabbit hole, Japanese haiku… it’s an indirect way to get at Buddhism also… that i am finding it compelling at this moment likely has to do with my dad’s impending death… i have found it helpful…

The Essential Haiku

… still making my way through the notes, which are numerous and informative…

… a note about the Basho poem More than ever I want to see… what Basho wants to see is the face of a god that is so hideous he will only appear at night, at dawn… hmmm… how would one ever know if not Japanese?… or have some good notes to learn from…

… Spring going… a departure poem that opens up The Narrow Road to the North… it speaks of birds weeping and tears in the eyes of fish, which the note tells us is about his departure from friends to journey to the north… context is important…

… in another note i learn about the book Basho’s Ghost, by Sam Hamill… i look to see if it is available, only a collectible one, paperback, for $200… there are two others starting at $796… umm… i will have to see if the Public Library has it, hopefully under lock and key…

… i will stop today, with the note on A Wild Sea…

A wild sea—

and flowing out towards Sado Island,

the Milky Way.1

… Robert Haas fears his translation doesn’t capture the grandeur of the poem commentators point to… he also tells me that at the time of Basho, the island was a penal colony where, according to Wikipedia, losers of political conflicts and dissidents were exiled… interestingly, i think one gets the grandeur of the wild sea and the Milky Way… the Island, it turns out, is fairly large, currently supporting a population of a little over 55,000, though in 1960, the population peaked at just over 113,000… the island has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years…


  1. Basho, translated by Robert Haas, from, The Essential Haiku, p 42. [return]

The Essential Haiku, Notes

… in the very first note i read this morning, an academic article is referenced, Basho—The Man and The Plant, by Donald H. Shively… i look up the article and it is only available through JSTOR, i look for it elsewhere but can’t find it any other way… at this point i discover that i can register for JSTOR and read up to 100 articles a month for free… um, i am not an academic, so the prospect that i might exceed the limit in any given month is unlikely… what a find!…

… and, on to the article, the plant is appreciated in China and, to a lesser extent, in Japan, as a symbol of ephemerality, as the leaves of the plant are easily damaged by the wind and the plant withers and dies in the winter in these places… Basho’s students took to calling him Master Banana Plant, because of the specimen he kept in his garden… Basho like this and adopted it as his poets name… a poem by Saigyo, one of Basho’s favorite poets, talks about the banana plant in this way:

When the wind blows

at random go

the banana leaves;

Since it is thus laid waste, is this a world

on which a human being either can rely?

… ephemerality of plan and human life… very buddhist…

Many of the traditions about the banana plant in Earlier Japanese literature are brought together in a Yokyoku of the fifteenth century entitled Basho. This No play is based on a theme suggested by the Lotus sutra, that even grasses and trees can be reincarnated as Buddhas.1

… this idea immediately leads me to think about the concept of Panpsychism, which postulates consciousness as a fundamental quality of all matter…

… Basho apparently enjoyed the concept of non-functional beauty… that is, beautiful plants, things, that had no apparent use, which left them undisturbed by humans, and therefor, made them a reliable presence… one could ground themselves in and around non-functional beauty… i relate this to my reading on the Greek concept of techne yesterday…

 Techne (Greek: τέχνη, tékhnē, ‘craft, art’; Ancient Greek: tékʰnɛː, Modern Greek: ˈtexni (About this soundlisten)) is a term in philosophy that refers to making or doing. As an activity, technē is concrete, variable, and context-dependent. The term resembles the concept of epistēmē in the implication of knowledge of principles, in that “both words are names for knowledge in the widest sense.” However, the two are distinct.2

… the importance of usefulness or functionality in Western culture which also appreciates the fruit of the banana plant rather than the ephemeral qualities of the plant itself, which has no “concrete” value other than to produce the useful fruit…


  1. Shively, Donald H., Basho—The Man and The Plant [return]
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techne [return]

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… a sense of the impossibility of translating Japanese haiku is given in these two paragraphs…

Winter Sun: This is Ueda’s translation, from Basho and His Interpreters, p. 170. The alliteration and assonance in this poem are particularly admired: fuyu no hi ya bajo ni koru kageboshi.1

… and…

A Petal Shower: The phrase used to describe the falling petals is onomatopoeic: horohoro. Some connection between that sound and the sound of the river.2

… in the note to the poem How Admirable!, some sound information on enlightenment, which is…

to see nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is.3

  • squid seller/summer
  • cuckoo/summer
  • peach blossoms/late spring
  • foxes/mischievous, supernatural powers

… the commentary on Hailstones…

Hard things hitting hard things in a hard place. Mountain passes were mysterious places in old Japanese culture, inhabited by boundary gods and placatory shrines, sometimes with the carved figure of a man and a woman coupling.4


  1. Robert Haas, The Essential Haiku, p. 258. [return]
  2. Ibid, p. 258. [return]
  3. Ibid, p. 259. [return]
  4. Ibid, p. 259-60. [return]

The Essential Haiku, Notes

… reading the notes, i learn or confirm that…

  • Basho was most likely gay
  • cuckoo = summer
  • squid = summer
  • Japanese haiku are full of nuances that don’t translate… thus, the book that is on it’s way, featuring multiple translations of single haiku…
  • chrysanthemum = fall
  • chrysanthemum is competitively cultivated in Japan, is associated with purity and the royal family of Edo

The Essential Haiku

… i have finished all the pages that are direct translations from works of, or about, the masters… the last piece excerpts from a record of Basho working with his students… even though Basho tells us earlier that we must write down the first lines to come into our minds… it becomes clear in this final piece that poems are revisited, refined… it is as one would expect… also, that poems were sometimes communal efforts…

… i will next read through the notes of the book as the first one illuminated the general acceptance of homosexual love in Basho’s time… i wonder when, if, that changed?…

… in a few days i have a new book coming… Rise Ye Sea Slugs!… what a title… it is a compilation of translations of well known haiku… multiple translations as, generally speaking, it is impossible to give a perfect representation of a haiku in translation…

Basho On Poetry

… winding down to the end of The Essential Haiku…

The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. Moving things change, and because we cannot put a stop to time, it continues unarrested. To stop a thing would be to halve a sight or sound in our heart. Cherry blossoms whirl, leaves fall, and the wind flits them both along the ground. We cannot arrest with our eyes or ears what lies in such things. Were we to gain mastery over them, we would find that the life of each thing had vanished without a trace.1

Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter.2

… Basho promoting Panpsychism?…

Every form of insentient existence—plants, stones, or utensils—has its individual feelings similar to those of men3

… Learn from the Pine has a lot of wisdom… it comforts me because in general, i follow its proscriptions, not perfectly, not even admirably, but i follow them as best i can…


  1. Basho, Learn from the Pine, via The Essential Haiku [return]
  2. Ibid [return]
  3. Ibid [return]

The Haiku of Issa

… less progress on actual unraveling of meaning in these haiku today, but, several books on the subject, one of which i have ordered for my library… one thing that i knew, but which is confirmed in my exploration today, no single translation can transmit all the meaning possibilities packed into a great haiku… numerous translations are required…

  • on turning fifty: from this day on, it’s all profit…
    • was fifty the life expectancy when Issa was alive?, that would seem to be the implication…
  • a butterfly flitting, a child crawling, repeat…
    • another one of those ordinary moments
    • but also, butterflies are symbols of rebirth and transformation and are thought to be the souls of the departed… so the image of child and butterfly is one of a conversation between a new being and an old soul…
  • on sea slugs not seaming Japanese…
  • writing poems to please the rich is not art…
    • i can relate to this… art is too much driven by wealth now as it was then…
  • envy of the child being scolded, end of the year…
    • to be a child again?, from the vantage point of old age?…
  • cuckoo singing, nothing special to do, even for the burweed…

02 Meditations

Buson haiku…

… several poems land in this morning’s set…

… one about old man ears and the sound of rain falling down the rain pipe… my old man ears are listening to the rain hitting the pavement outside…

… another one talks about hearing the moon and seeing the frogs croak… what an odd displacement…

… several flowers are mentioned…

… white chrysanthemum…

Chrysanthemums have noble connotations, appearing on the Japanese Imperial Family’s crest for generations. But white chrysanthemums indicate purity, grief, and truth, and are used for funerals.1

… the peony…

The Japanese peony, considered the “King of Flowers,” has a symbolic meaning that includes wealth, good fortune, honor, daring and masculine bravery. The peony originated in China; around the eighth century, the Chinese introduced the peony to Japan.2

… the iris…

from dark purplish variants to their more pale, pastel violet hues, these are used to represent loyalty, having a noble heart, and good news.3

… i have plunged down a rabbit hole on haiku, reading more and more about what makes haiku, haiku… a lengthy article on the rules developed in North America for haiku content and structure and how those rules are contrary to the classic haiku traditions exemplified by Basho and Buson…

04 Basho to Buson

… i have finished reading the poetry and prose of Basho in the present volume… it concluded with The Saga Diary… an account of his time at the home of a friend… in it, i think i perceive that Basho might have been gay… this reminds me of my own mentor, M, who died long ago during the AIDS epidemic…

… yesterday, i thought of the work i did with him… M was a true master… he thought highly of me… i have not lived up to the expectations i have of myself because of this… still, i keep trying…

… i read the introduction to Buson, who seems to have been a more down-to-earth artist… he enjoyed earthly things, drinking with friends, Geisha girls…

… he loved the poetry of Basho…

… in this introduction to Buson, i learn that the struggles i have about whether to feed the art market (make some money from my work) or not are not new (did i really think they were?)… it seems that as long as there has been art and a market for it, this has been the struggle… i am fortunate to not require an income from the art i make… though the occasional sale is welcome…

… the sun is well up… the birds continue to twitter outside… the dogs sleep in the living room… a cool breeze brushes over my back… in the distance the waves break on the shore… i feel good in this moment…

02 Morning Spiritual Moment

The Haiku of Basho

… i don’t know if it is my mood, but the Haikus i read this morning seem all about alienation, loneliness… they leave me adrift, there isn’t one to latch on to… i read on… i land on this one, Basho’s death poem:

Sick on a journey,

my dreams wander

the withered fields.

… yes, this one seems appropriate for the morning after the news about J…

02 Haiku of Basho

… i have a thick book of haikus composed by Basho, Buson and Isa… i have been reading two to four pages worth daily as a kind of spiritual observance… i think about them, summarize them, sometimes quote particular ones that land more firmly than others in my mind…

… the one that lands most firmly this morning is about being in a winter garden, the moon thinned to thread width, the insects singing… if it’s winter, the insects wouldn’t be singing, at least not where i live, and not in Japan?… the poem is about the garden of old age, the light diminishing, insects singing the poet off into approaching blackness…

02 Haiku of Basho

… i learn about… Risshaku-ji, a mountain temple, an unusually well kept quiet place1… i morning-dream of going there… i know i am unlikely to, would be a cool adventure though… the more i read the Haas translations, the more i think they might not be so good… the first Haiku i read this morning …

Stillness—

the cidada’s cry,

_drills into the rocks.

… i have no knowledge of the Japanese, but i would never think of the noise cicadas make as a cry, is that really the best translation of the Japanese?… it is loud and i can imagine it drilling rocks… it’s a high pitched washboard sound, that’s how i’d describe it… or, simply, cicada noise, most of us know it… still, i do get the image…

… the next one, fifth month rains swell a local river… as they do Fishkill Creek at home, something i have photographed many times… Haiku strike me as minimalist notes on attention paid… can i replicate this in a photograph?…


  1. Basho, translation Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa, The Echo Press, 1994. [return]

20210615.02 Haiku

Basho

… birds weeping, fish crying; dusk in spring, no bells in the village, how is life possible; art origins, planting song, back country; chestnut trees, in written chineese, west + tree = amida’s paradise, the wood useful for walking sticks and pillars of a house; summer grass, warriors dreams; fleas, lice, horses peeing near one’s pillow…

… this morning’s set seems more cryptic than some… how does summers grass evoke warriors dreams?… one needs to be in the spring of youth to fight?… i like that chestnut trees are associated with the western paradise, the place of pure bliss, that because of that one fashions walking sticks and house pillars from the wood, to embody the place one hopes to attain… a village without bells, no time keeping, no regulation of the rhythms of the day… how does one perceive weeping in a bird, or tears in the eye of a fish?, the later especially something to do with cosmic integration, and sadness of animals at the end of spring… human projection?, and in any case, most of us are happy with the arrival of summer…

20210614.02 Haiku

… sleepless nights, oil freezes; after winter crysanthemums, radishes; she cats, love and barley; a monkey’s face is a monkey face; fish guts smell; a woman fingers back her hair while wrapping rice cakes; life is a makeshift hut like Sogi’s; summer robes and lice; when there are clouds, moon watchers take a break; is there a god?; even children gaze at the moon while husking rice; heat shimmers above dead grass…

… i have this thought, what if we only spoke to one another in haiku?… would we make progress?…

20210612.02 Haiku

… i turn to the Haiku of Basho, Buson, & Issa for the centering spiritual start to my day… one by Basho catches my attention in particular…

the spring we don’t see—

on the back of a hand mirror

a plum tree in flower1

… at first i read it as a comment on vanity, that we stare at our own reflections in the hand mirror, and fail to notice the flowering plum tree out the window… then i realize that the back of the mirror is likely to be decorated with an embossed or painted image of a plum tree in bloom… still, there is the issue of being more interested in our own reflections than the beauty on the other side of the mirror…


  1. Basho. Translated by Robert Hass. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa, edited by Robert Hass. The Echo Press, 1994 [return]

01 First Thoughts

… i wake earlier than usual… lie in bed trying to relax my body, some success… up… let the dogs out… feed the cat… run water into the tea kettle, set it on the burner… grind coffee beans, a chocolate fruity smell… pour the grounds into the press… let the dogs in… treat the dogs… pour the just now boiling water into the coffee press… stir the coffee with a chop stick… stretching exercises… four minutes and the coffee is ready… press the grounds down to the bottom… agave and cinnamon added to my thermal cup… pour the coffee, elevating the pot and extending the stream as i go… screw the top onto my thermal mug… first sip, the coffee is just right… i climb the stairs to begin reading and writing…

… i read twelve Haiku by Basho… these are my morning prayers… awareness of small exquisite moments… insignificant significance because Basho was there and observed and recorded… i am here to read and imagine what was observed, whole worlds rendered within three lines… the translation makes no attempt to hold to Haiku syllable structure, only three lines and the moment evoked… this sets me free to write Haiku in English if i care to… it sets me free to make assemblages of words that are minimal but open cosmic doors…

… what i learn from Basho… it’s the exquisite small moments that matter most…

01 Sunday Spirituality

… 12 poems by Basho… i read about abandoned two year old children, tossed some food; horses eating hibiscus; the frost of old age; aging; darkening seas and wild ducks calling; years passing and more of the same; the mists of spring; that oaks are not interested in cherry blossoms; azaleas and women tearing codfish; drunken bees and peonies; that shepherd’s purse hides under hedges; that frogs create sound from water…

03 What Basho Tells Me

… i read of Kyoto and cuckoo’s cries; roads not travelled and autumn evenings; whitebait with black eyes in nets; felled trees and moonlight; autumn moons and chestnut worms; snowy mornings and dried salmon; crows and bare branches; outhouses, moonflowers and torchlight; crane’s legs shortening in spring rain; how spring implies autumn; weathered bones and wind-pierced bodies; misty rains that obscure Mt. Fuji…

… this is what Basho has to tell me in twelve poems… he makes much of little things, brief crystalline moments… i think back to the irritation of messy food falling in my lap, repeatedly, a little thing, a brief moment, a moment i was alive and present… should i be grateful?…