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

… what matters, that we all die, or that we sing along the way?…

The last example is perhaps the most dramatic and poignant. Issa introduces it with the head note, “Flood” (kôzui 洪水). The insect may be floating to his death, yet he keeps singing. Perhaps Issa sees himself in the insect; perhaps he sees in it the fate of all living creatures, for all are equally, eventually doomed. The important thing isn’t the inevitable death to which the currents of the universe sweep us; what matters, Issa implies, is to embrace the present moment … and sing.1

… what one of us isn’t concerned with the inevitable subsidence of our “conscious” being?… we are crafted to survive at all costs… it’s inbuilt that we worry about the integrity of the configuration of atoms and processes that constitute our bodies and consciousness, whatever that may mean… the Buddhist way is to work hard, through meditation and mindfulness of the present moment thinking, to let go of the obsession with dying which is, in any case, inevitable… so, the advice is to sing regardless of the situation you find yourself in…

… another way of looking at the poem referenced is that we are what we are, even in the face of disaster and imminent demise…

still singing the insect

is swept away …

floating branch

… and now i learn that animals of all kinds can be observed to dance… interact while moving in that exhibit structure and repetition… early humans learned to mimic these animal dances and would do so in ceremonial ways to encourage abundance and successful hunting, to become one with the animal being hunted… close identification with animals of all kinds allows behavior prediction… it also focuses mind and body on a successful encounter, whether the objective be to kill, capture or avoid…2

… the interesting question arises, does one need to know they are dancing to be dancing?… “I think, therefor I am.”3… i dance, therefor i dance?… to be the best kind of dancer i am sure a dance training master would suggest that one need’s to forget they are dancing and simply be the dance… i am groping towards something here… conscious, so called “rational thought,” is a hinderance to being in direct communication with one’s environment… it is impossible to hold anything sacred that is only “thought” about… one must be in seamless relationship with the world to hold the idea, the instinct, that it is sacred, worthy of respect and honor, of careful and respectful interaction… by writing poems about nature and animals and the world in general, one is setting themselves on intimate terms with all of that, dissolving the boundaries between self and cosmos…


  1. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 145). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Ibid, with some embellishment and expansion by me. [return]
  3. Descartes [return]

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

  •  The deeper truth of his not purely whimsical poem is that frogs, just as much as humans, are fully part of this universe and, in their way, might appreciate its wonders.1
  • … i read this and think… hmmm… making just a little too much of a claim to animal sentience… but then, but then… i wonder if animals, when their basic needs have been met, take moments just to enjoy the good feeling of having needs met coupled perhaps with an idyllic evening, or afternoon, or morning?… my immediate thought is that they have more to fear from their surroundings than i and most of the humans I know do… can they ever let their guard down?… can they ever experience a moment of vulnerability?, of bliss?… my dogs do, i am pretty sure… wrapped in the security of having their basic needs met and being with humans who love them dearly and protect them, they can afford to have their guards down and perhaps enjoy a pleasant moment in the cosmos…

  1. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 137). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]

Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A buddhist Poet’s Perspective

  • i read about butterflies as road trip companions…
  • i learn about Arukigami, the God of Wandering… i learn that Arukigami entices people to leave their homes and walk about… sounds a little aboriginal to me…
  •  The haiku jokingly connects his and the cat’s restless journeys to a god’s influence, when in reality, as he and his readers must know, the force that compels a cat and a poet to wander is quite worldly: the cat seeks food or sex; the poet seeks inspiration for haiku—which, in turn, makes the attainment of food and sex (whether in marriage or in the brothels of which Issa sometimes writes) possible.1
  • i learn about winter seclusion, what Issa and poets before and after him did in the harsh winters… find a hut to hang out in and stay there until spring came around…
  • i learn that fukubiki can be translated as “Lucky the Toad,” and that Lucky is a common stand in name for toad…
  •  People are genetically programmed to be repulsed by the smell of rotten food, to be excited by the smell of good food, and to be attracted to partners whose faces and bodies exhibit symmetry that indicates health and might therefore ensure the passing of one’s genes to the next generation. If our human sense of beauty evolved from such primal impulses, we might come to suspect that nourishing flowers excite and draw butterflies to them because, to butterflies, they are beautiful.2… i think the question and thought needs to be reversed, that humans need to first acknowledge that as conscious as they appear to themselves, they are largely driven by “animal instincts,” which are the same instincts all animals and even plants possess, so a concept of beauty is the world at large attracting the animal to something beneficial…

  1. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 114). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 124). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]

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]

First Thoughts

… beginning to look forward to getting home… miss H and the dogs… getting a little bored… M seems as though they will go on… a little sad… a little lacking in motivation… but otherwise ok… doing some future planning…

HCR meter neutral to pointing downwards… about the voting rights landscape… about whether the multicultural majority will control the next many decades, or the mostly white minority will… the filibuster stands in the way of the former and so far, Dems have been unwilling to change it…

… have started reading a book on Issa haikus dealing with animals… i thought, when i bought it, that it was focused on animal symbology, and it does get into that, but the main focus is demonstrating Issa’s attitude towards animals, which was more or less a Buddhist attitude, and making an argument that he believed in the fair treatment of animals as that might be meant in our time, not his… i don’t know that i see the purpose of making such a case in a scholarly treatment of the poet… Buddhist belief systems generally treat all life forms as fellow travelers in the universe… as part of the web of life… i suppose i prefer the web of life view in general, even as i consider machine intelligence, and what might be evolving in the entire life/consciousness/thought system… having just finished George Dyson’s Analogia, which makes the case that machines and the coding that runs them will, have(?), reached the point of self determination and self reproduction, but not without needing us as a sublayer of their existence… this is perhaps the more benign way it could go, if indeed it is going that way… human beings not at the top of the intelligence chain, but necessary to it and therefore guaranteed a place in it going forward… i need to pick up Ken Wilbur’s book and read it again… i think it dovetails with the Dyson ideas… one question remains, however… this whole human machine thing maintains the possibility of self annihilation… how will this machine/human complex avoid destroying itself?… is violence an unavoidable part of all cultural thought systems?…

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… today, the book is finished… the last notes discuss the origins of the haiku form and the difficulties of translating them… i am surprised that Robert Hass is not fluent in Japanese but rather, learned what he needed to learn to translate the poems, initially for his own pleasure/study, later for publication… he says he set himself the task of translating one haiku a day, which involved looking up the characters of both the Japanese and Chinese languages and deciphering what they meant or implied…

… at the very end, there is a list of elements of Haiku that make them difficult to render in English:

  • syntax… The swiftness of the syntax is one of the fascinating things about these poems, and I don’t think itv can be rendered.1
  • Rhythm… exists in the structuring of the lines, where there are shifts and changes in direction, which have the effect of taking a 5-7-5 structure and rendering it as 5-4-3-5 or 5-3-4-5…
  • Chinese Characters… Japanese is written in a combination of phonetic signs for individual syllable sounds and ideograms based on Chinese characters, or kanji2
  • Pivot Words… words that suddenly change the meaning, or the expectation of meaning, of a sentence, as you read it, a kind of grammatical double exposure.3
  • Seasonal Worlds… known as Kigo… as Mark Morris observes, “translation cannot convey the feeling of at-homeness, of being inserted in the cycle of a natural and ritual calendar that kigo communicate to the haikai reader.”4

… the earlier traditions of haikai and hokku, which birthed the haiku form, are compared to the call and response improvisation of jazz bands of the 1920’s…


  1. Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku, p 310 [return]
  2. Ibid, p 311 [return]
  3. Ibid, p 312 [return]
  4. Ibid, p 314 [return]

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… today starts the notes on Issa’s poems…

… in today’s notes, i learn that…

  • the Buddhism Issa’s family practiced is that of the Jodo-shin-shu sect which has become Mahayanna Buddhism in present day Japan… it is the most important school of Buddhism in Japan and is considered mainline, middle class… it accounts for some aspects of Issa’s sensibilities…1
  • Robert Bly believes didactic intent is not in the realm of haiku, that is, haiku should not seek to teach… what then, should haiku do?… observe?… and really, if it observes well, doesn’t an astute student learn from it?… doesn’t it teach?… it feels like an odd and splitting hairs sort of distinction…
  • scarecrows are an autumn kigo, which are words or phrases with seasonal reference, in haiku, a cultural code for the seasons… i found this extensive list of kigo in Wikipedia…
  • The World of Dew is direct reference to Buddhist teaching about the ephemeral nature of things… in Mahayana formulation, it is this: All conditioned things are like a dream, a phantom, a drop of dew, a lightning flash. This is how to observe them.2
  • that women turning into serpents figure in No and Kabuki plays…3

… i have finished the notes related to Issa and a section of Basho on how to make poems… it is interesting to me that Hass spends much more note space on Basho than either of the other two poets… because of the stature of his poetry?… or, are Buson and Issa generally a little more accessible to the western mind?…


  1. Robert Haas, The Essential Haiku, pp 284-85 [return]
  2. Robert Haas, The Essential Haiku, p 289 [return]
  3. Ibid, p 292 [return]

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… more notes on Buson…

… i learn that:

  • the mountain cuckoo lives in deep forest, is often heard, seldom seen… the tradition is that nobody knows much about it, so secretive is it
  • a deer crying three times = fall

… i am finished with the notes on Buson… next is Issa, then i move on to other reading material…

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… i was telling my brother and sister yesterday that i have found reading this book of Haiku has had a daily centering effect on me… in light of all the family trauma and drama going on right now, this has been useful…

… more notes on the poems of Buson…

… i learn that in Buson’s time, there was an annual doll festival held in the spring… this poem talks about it…

the lights are going out

in the doll shops—

spring rain.

… i wonder about the translation not relying on cultural knowledge of doll festivals happening in the Spring in Buson’s time, and so reiterating that it is spring in the third line… i suppose it is so obscure that western audiences need the help?…

… Bats flitting here and there: Hass relates this poem to The Young Housewife, a poem by William Carlos Williams… i look up the poem, find it slightly confusing, but understand the connection… a poem of longing, less clearly so in the case of Buson…

… i learn about a particular willow tree that has long poetic tradition, visited and written about by Saigyo, Basho, Buson… i am reminded of the catalpa tree in the graveyard… from there, i remember a comment on my photos utility poles and wires at the last Salon, comparing them unfavorably to R. Crumb’s drawings of the same subject… i look them up and find this short video slide show set to the music of Joni Mitchel’s The Big Yellow Taxi… i respect the person who made the comment, but, i don’t think they were right…

… hmm… from the haiku of Buson to the drawings of R. Crumb and music of Joni Mitchel…

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… i’ve moved on to the notes on Buson’s haiku…

… Buson seems a more down to earth poet as i have observed earlier…

… i learn that erotic themes are not generally pursued in traditional haiku, Basho certainly doesn’t… Buson, perhaps, indirectly…

… i learn that leeks are a winter vegetable… i am growing leeks in my planter tanks… i look up when to harvest them… soon…

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 world of robotics…

The world of robotics, is the world of robotics— and yet.

… this is a play on the Robert Haas translation of a famous Issa haiku…

The world of dew, is the world of dew— and yet, and yet.

… dew is symbolic of ephemerality and in this particular Issa poem is thought to be expressing grief over the death of his daughter…

… my “homage” picks up on the idea that things are what they are, neither good or evil in and of themselves… there is nothing inherently evil about robotics… it all hinges on the uses humans find for their creations and, on that score, the historic record is not good…

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…

First Thoughts

… H safely delivered to M… trip home quick, easy… dogs happy to be released, Fiona refusing her food… i will make dog food today…

… Heather Cox Richardson wrote about the Civil War today, the moment when the tide of it changed… the brutality of the war… the hatred that must have existed… we are not there yet in the present day… i hope we never get there…

… robotics on my mind… evolution on my mind… we will advance our ability to make machines regardless… i have long speculated that intelligence was moving forward through the machines we make… the problem with machines is the people who make them… they can do tremendous good, or tremendous harm… at present, it all depends on the people who commission and deploy them… i wrote a micro poem about this…

The world of robotics,

is the world of robotics—

and yet…

… in the format of the famous Issa haiku, The world of dew…

… the dogs don’t seem concerned about the absence of H…

… i wonder how the chocolates we brought to M and R were?… they certainly had interesting flavors and were beautiful enough…

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 Prose of Issa

… excerpts from “A Year of My Life (1819)…

… the interesting part being prose passages after which haiku have been inserted… as if what happened in the prose lead to the poem… or course, it could also be that the poem was written at some time in the past and inserted for it’s relevance to the moment described in the prose… Issa inserted one of his most famous poems after a passage about the death of his daughter…

The world of dew,

is the world of dew,

and yet, and yet—

… the prose in general seems to be a little banal, a little removed emotionally from what it talks about… i wonder if these journal entries seem the same to anyone who reads them?…

The Haiku of Issa

… the last two in the book…

  • insects floating down the river on a branch, still singing…
    • literally, one can imagine a branch breaking off and carrying insects with it… that they would be oblivious to the changed circumstances and still be singing…
    • or, they might apprehend that there is little they can do about the change in circumstance, why not keep singing?…
    • or, they might be pleased to be on a new adventure, and sing with joyous expectation…
    • metaphorically, humanity often finds itself oblivious to the peril it is in… carried along by the years, without really understanding what their lives are about…
  • the poet’s death poem…
    • the stupidity of (being) bathed at the beginning and end of life…
      • i struggle with this one literally and figuratively, why would bathing the newborn or the dead be stupid?…
      • is the poet complaining that life should find a better way to begin and end?…

… i have a new book on haiku coming… this one offers multiple translations of each haiku as a singular haiku can’t get at all the nuances and cultural references of the original… it’s a thick book apparently… may take me a long time to get through it…

The Haiku of Issa

… i am nearing the end of The Essential Haiku… a few more poems, a couple of prose pieces at the end of the book, i am finished… yesterday i gathered together a dozen of my micro poems to read at an event in the evening that was postponed until next week due to the rain… a COVID precaution… i read them to H who did not seem that enthusiastic about them… haiku and micro poems are funny things… i suspect you get them, or you don’t and the difference between a passable one and a great one is hard to pin down… they need to be specific enough to call you to the details of a moment, but then use those details to open a window on the infinite…

… today’s haiku summaries and interpretations…

  • a small boat drifts down the tide under an autumn moon…
    • first interpretation is literal, a scene observed
    • second interpretation, the small boat represents the poet in late middle age, early old age, as seasons equate to stages in life…
    • tides are cyclical and related to the moon…
    • the moon is enlightenment, the poet drifts in the light of enlightenment and with the push, pull of the tides…
  • I’m here and the snow is falling…
    • first interpretation, literal, the poet standing in the falling snow…
    • second interpretation, old age has overtaken the poet, but he is still there, still alive…
  • making very straight holes with piss in the snow…
    • it’s hard to go to far beyond the literal interpretation here… i suppose the straight piss stream would be a good sign for an elderly man… still some virility left…
  • missing her grumbling, the moon…
    • pining for a woman under the moon…
    • in Buddhism, the moon is a symbol of enlightenment, Issa was a lay Buddhist priest, so it is likely the Buddhist significance of the moon prevails in his writings…
    • so, perhaps it is longing for a woman under the light of the moon, or perhaps it is longing for feminine wisdom to complete enlightenment…
  • the nose of a new foal among the irises…
    • it is hard to go beyond the literal here, though spring and rebirth could be a general theme of the poem…
  • a peasant woman planting towards her crying child, crooked row…
    • this is one that could be literal but is perhaps more satisfying to interpret as metaphor…
      • the strength of a mother’s love, the bond between mother and child…
      • the strength of the bond of family…
      • the pull of youth on the not so young…
      • longing for youth…
      • the triumph of heart over mind…

The Haiku of Issa

… each day i read six Haiku from The Essential Haiku, translations by Robert Hass… i do it as a mindfulness practice, to start my day with something centering, something that shows how to be in the moments and see what is present, what is important, what your connection to the earth, sun, moon and stars is…

  • thirty days after the daughter’s death… fall winds, flowers the daughter liked to pick…
    • a visit to the daughters grave in the fall with the flowers she liked to pick…
    • a melancholy poem…
  • a woodpecker still drilling as the sun goes down…
    • little information on the symbolism of woodpeckers in Japan, but i did read that they are incredibly industrious, foraging for food, building nests, drilling holes in which to store food for the winter… this poem seems to be a nod to that industriousness…
    • as i contemplate the poem, i wonder about human industriousness… humans have something called leisure time… is that a good thing?… well, perhaps it is mostly older humans that arrive at a place with leisure time… i don’t know… i work pretty hard, try to write and make pictures every day… among other things…
  • autumn mountains recede against a clear pale sky…
    • this one seems quite literal… i wonder if the mountains equate to time passing and there is a melancholy about being towards the end of life and mountains that won’t get climbed…
  • upon the son’s death… asking why the wild pink broke…
    • best i can figure is wild pink refers to flowers of the spring, maybe pink moss?… why was life ended at such an early age?…
  • a pheasant cries, did it just notice the mountain?…
    • the author staring at the mountain?… a pheasant cries bringing him out of his mountain reverie and leading to a pondering of the motivations of pheasants…
  • mother guarding, foal drinking water from the pond…
    • this one seems like a straight forward rendering of a scene… horses are significant in Japanese culture, gods in their mythology, but i am not sure that knowledge helps an understanding of the poem…

The Haiku of Issa

Today’s six Haiku summarized with notes on what they mean or suggest to me, or the questions they raise…

  • watching dawn over green fields with his father…
    • the generations, time, intertwines… green fields are spring, early summer fields, the poet will be younger than the father…
  • unaware fish in a tub, cooling at the gate…
    • about to be dinner?… this is not the first poem suggesting animals are unaware of time, of the near future, of the past… they are all about just being in the present moment…
  • ducks quacking on a new year’s morning…
    • in celebration?, or just doing what ducks do?… a sign that nothing has changed… a quack to greet the new year… humans make of it what they will…
  • the world of dew, and yet…
    • one of the more famous and enigmatic poems Issa wrote… dew is short lived past the dawn… as the sun climbs, it evaporates away, yet while there, magic occurs, little worlds by the millions, sparkling diamonds… yes, dew is dew, nothing more, and yet, when gazed upon by eyes that see… and yet…
  • a spring day lingers in the pools…
    • i guess this would be the pools of a stream or small river…
  • beneath an image of Buddha, tiresome spring flowers…
    • initially i thought statue of Buddha, then i thought painting or print depicting Buddha… which makes me think of a Buddha alter in the home with spring flowers placed beneath it… why tiresome?… is it tiresome by comparison to the concept of Buddha?… is the devotion of placing flowers tiresome… why tiresome?…

The Haiku of Issa

… reading and thinking about these poems as a daily practice has done a great deal to center me… they are guiding lanterns, illuminating what is truly important, not the glorious deeds of men and women, not conquering heroes and explorers, not rich men shooting themselves into space… but the fly that mimics the actions of a person praying over their rosary beads or brushing the flies away from the father’s face one last time… what is important is humility in the face of a cosmos in which we are a minuscule factor and will always be a minuscule factor…

… on with today’s six haiku…

  • the snail going through it’s daily routines with little fuss…
    • despite all the petty concerns of people, the snail just is…
    • nature just is…
    • people need to learn to just be…
  • flies imitating people with prayer beads…
    • even flies pray?…
    • but it is imitation, not the real thing…
    • is what people do with prayer beads important if the flies imitate them?…
  • something about fluids, if they were sweet, being the poet’s dew, his dew…
    • my immediate impression is of a homosexual relationship… though Issa did sleep with women, prostitutes… was he perhaps bi-sexual?… or is there another interpretation…
  • something about the sight of the ocean invoking the mother he never knew, every time…
    • his mother died when he was young and the ocean makes him long for her?…
    • the ocean is the mother he always wished he had…
  • about a summer night where even the stars are whispering…
    • is this anything more than the evocation of a still summer’s evening?…
    • all the cosmos is hushed…
    • being one with the stars…
  • about brushing the flies off his father’s face for the last time…
    • melancholy, old age, death…
    • my father is dying, if i weren’t so angry with him i might be melancholic…