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 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 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…

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…

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

… i’ve read all the Haiku that are in The Essential Haiku… this morning i read exerpts(?) from Journal of My Father’s Last Days… i had to push myself through the pages… Issa was devoted to his father, hated by his stepmother, not sure what his relationship with his half brother was…

… my father is dying… in some ways it was interesting to read about a son caring about and caring for his father… i am not being called upon to do that, though i am pretty sure i would if it came to it, compassion is the proper response to anyone’s end of days…

… i don’t like my father and he doesn’t like me… our relationship has been difficult for most of my adult life… i long ago gave up on any expectations that it could be different… we tolerate each other for my mother’s sake, sometimes, just barely… it would be nice if i had similar devotion to Issa’s but i don’t… my devotion is to my mother… she is my main concern at this time… i am hoping for a few good years with her, without the ever present tension of my father, before she too passes on…

… i don’t know how i will feel when he does die… i only know that i am not very sad or worried about it right now… the sadness i feel right now is for the pain and sadness my mother is experiencing… i know, from the experience of dogs and cats that have passed on, how difficult it is to watch a being you have loved fade and pass away… H’s dad died suddenly, this seems the easier way despite the shock…

… i expect some difficult days ahead… i expect some difficult feelings too… we are in the space of taking it one day at a time and dealing with what wells up as it comes… which, according to my vague understanding fo Buddhism, is all we can ever do…

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…

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…

Haiku of Issa

  • sin is not possible without talent, on a winter day…
    • if talent is lacking then being lazy on a winter day isn’t a sin?…
  • four or five pennies for the poor, evening rain…
    • the scene set, it is melancholy…
  • a cuckoo singing to the poet and the mountain, the poet and then the mountain…
    • like an echo?…
    • summer harbinger, summer poem…
    • mourning, melancholy, longing… these are the things the bird symbolizes, though, not being Japanese, i don’t naturally pick up on these implied feelings…
  • holes in the wall whistle flute like on an autumn evening…
    • imperfect human-verse…
    • there is a without and within to this poem… without, winter is coming… holes in the wall need fixing… but for now… a pleasant song…
  • a fat priest with one foot out the door on the last prayer…
    • even priests can be half assed…
  • skinny mosquitoes, skinny fleas, skinny children, stupid world…
    • why is the world stupid and not wondrous?…
    • who would think up such a world?…
    • mosquitoes, fleas and children, all in the same world… imagine that…

The Haiku of Issa

In today’s episode…

  • a woman sings the rice planting song in the shade of a thicket…
    • the rice planting song is a very important folk song in Japan and rice growing in general extremely important…
    • what i note about this poem is a woman is being rendered with affection… as representative of tradition?…
    • rice planting occurs late spring, early summer, but there is no indication that rice planting is going on, only that the song is being sung…
  • pampas grass trembles helplessly…
    • this paints an image in my mind for sure… but what is the meaning behind this anthropomorphic rendering of vibratory grass?…
  • an old dog leading the way to the graves…
    • is the dog a dog, or do the Japanese have a similar way of referring to older men as old dogs?… is it an elderly man leading the way?…
    • is this a literal or metaphorical visit to the cemetery…
    • would this be a winter poem with its reference to old age and death?…
  • the daughter lifts a melon to her cheek in a dream…
    • melons are taken quite seriously in contemporary Japan, carefully nurtured plant by plant and with musk melons fetching as much as $27,000 each…
    • i don’t know if this is a recent development…
    • is this a summer poem?…
    • it feels like a flemish painting to me…
  • a mouse lapping at the Sumida River in the spring rains…
    • this seems like a treacherous enterprise for a small mouse to be lapping at a river swollen by spring rains… perhaps the poem is symbolic of the naivety of the young?…
    • the Sumida River is also the subject of a famous Noh play, Sumida-gawa, about a crazy old woman who comes to find her son only to find he died on the banks of the river… the play was first produced in Osaka in 1784 when Issa would have been 21 years old… the play takes place in the spring…
  • the weight of being born a man on an autumn evening…
    • my question is, is man a gender reference or a humankind reference… in Western culture it would be read as a humankind reference, and thus, the weight of being human is knowing we will die…
    • if more specifically a gender reference, then i am less sure about meaning… the responsibilities that older males acquire during their lifetimes?… the weight of that?…

The Haiku of Issa

… studying and trying to interpret the Haiku of Basho, Buson and Issa, and trying to write my own micro poems has had an interesting effect… it has led me to begin withdrawing from Instagram and Facebook and to reconsider the attitude with which i make art… i have decided that it might be better simply to make and let the universe decide what will come from it…

… on with the Issa haiku…

  • napping at mid day, the song of rice planters, shame…
    • are midday naps a luxury in a world that requires our labor to make order in chaos and put food on our tables?… planting rice is a spring activity, so this is a spring poem?
  • melons don’t notice the intentions of thieves…
    • human motivation is of no concern to the greater part of the cosmos…
  • a pretty girl munching and rustling wrapped up rice cake…
    • for a heterosexual poet, a pretty girl is always worth paying attention to…
  • warning the cricket that rolling over is immanent…
    • crickets are symbols of good fortune in Chinese, Japanese and Native American culture… nobody would want to kill one, intentionally or accidentally…
    • Buddhists tend to honor all living things…
  • an old dog listening for the songs of earthworms?…
    • not sure what to make of this one…
    • sleeping on its side on the ground?…
    • a poem about old age and death?…
  • a crow walking along the field as if it were tilling it…
    • hmmm… the crow acting as if it owns the field… following its nature?…
    • could it be any other way?…
    • crows are about transformation… they move in and clean up the carrion of battles…
    • crows are message carriers…
    • all birds are opportunities for awakening and becoming present…
    • the crow is an autumn and winter bird…
    • the crow is a dusk, or end of day bird…
    • the crow might therefor be associated with old age, and since often thought of as bearers of messages and symbols of rebirth, might have something to do with the wisdom of old age which moves through the fields tilling them for rebirth in the spring…

The Haiku of Issa

  • tiger moth enjoying itself, the poet asks how much…
    • wasn’t able to find much about moth symbolism, maybe a connection to departed ancestors…
  • horse approaching a sparrow, will the sparrow move?…
    • the horse is considered a god and has been worshipped since antiquity
    • the sparrow, on the other hand, i didn’t find much except a fairy tale, the Tongue-Cut Sparrow, which is a morality tale about greed and friendship…
    • the sparrow might be seen as a symbol of strength and industriousness and in juxtaposition to the horse might be about the wisdom of knowing limitations?…
  • apparently, the mountain cuckoo is a crybaby…
    • ahh, here we have more depth to pursue…
    • _The cuckoo has long been popular as a subject in Japanese literature and Haiku, possibly to do with the word having five syllables; and in literature and myth it is associated with the longing of the spirits of the dead to return to their loved ones. Mourning, longing, melancholy; these are suggested maybe by its song and perhaps signals its persistent use in woodblock prints.1
  • dew drops falling by ones and twos, it’s a wonderful life…
  • a query to scarecrow, where does cold come from?…
    • a fall into winter poem?… in Japanese culture, scarecrows are thought of as being all knowing… i wonder if there is linkage between scarecrow in the Wizzard of Oz and scarecrows in Japanese culture?…
  • apparently the moon bends to the shape of cold…
    • in Buddhism, the moon is a symbol of inner enlightenment, so this poem might be about old age and wisdom…
    • interestingly, in the Shinto religion, the moon is possibly male, but also inconclusively gendered, more appropriate to the pronoun they… the major achievement of Tsukuyomi (in the male form), who was married to Amaterasu (sun goddess), was to kill Ukemochi (the goddess of food) because she she spat out and coughed up food for her guests (appalling etiquette as far as Tukuyomi was concerned)… when Amaterasu found out she promptly divorced him and relegated him to the night sky2
    • Issa was a lay priest in the Buddhist religion…
    • i don’t think this poem channels the Shinto moon god…

The Haiku of Issa

The Six Ways…

… this is a funny set of six… there are…

  • Hell… in which there is a bright autumn moon and snails crying in the saucepan… a kind of hell on earth, if the cosmos is delivering something bad to you…
  • The Hungry Ghosts… in which flowers are scattering, water is scarce, the far off mists tease us with the possibility of water… this one about how enlightenment is illusive, especially when we allow ourselves to “thirst” for it…
  • Animals… in which it is pointed out that the falling of the flower petals mean nothing to them, they see no Buddha in it, but then again, it might be that they are all Buddhas because they lack desire and the ability to differentiate themselves from the cosmos…
  • Malignant Spirits… in which, people carry on petty argumentative lives and gambling, not seeing the shadow of blossoms they are in… a Plato’s Cave type of analogy?… also seems to channel the spirit of conservatives in the present time…
  • Men… in which humans squirm around on the ground amidst the blossoming flowers… no better than the animals?… “squirming around” channels the image of worms to me…
  • The Heaven Dwellers… in which lazy humans on a hazy day excuse themselves by thinking even the gods must be indolent…

… i really like this set of poems…

The Daily Read

The Haiku of Issa…

… an interesting set of poems today…

… a cricket chirps in the belly of a scarecrow…

… crickets are symbols of fall in Japanese haiku… in the west, they are symbols of summer…

… scarecrows in Japanese mythology (Kuebiko) are wise creatures and is one of three knowledge deities…

… taken together, a cricket in the scarecrow’s belly might be seen as suggesting the autumn phase of human aging, there being wisdom associated with approaching old age…

… another talks about the face of a spring moon 12 years old… the 12 years old part is the dead giveaway to me that the poet speaks of a girl on the cusp of menstruation, becoming an woman…

… another speaks of a woman washing the dishes by moonlight in the shallows of a river…

… this seems a multiple reference to feminine fluidity, the moon being a complex symbol of fluidity in Japanese culture… the river being a direct symbol of flowing time, the woman washing the dishes… the dishes themselves being concrete items that around which all this fluidity revolves… everything is feminine here… evocative of intuitive understandings… evocative of inner knowledge… wow, what a beautiful poem!…

Washing the saucepans—

the moon glows on her hands

in the shallow river.

… i am going to have to continue looking into this last one… there seems to be so much to it…

02 Daily Read:

Haiku by Issa…

… six poems… none of them grabs me… maybe the one about one fly, one human and a large room… flies are annoying… Issa seems to have written a lot about flies… in searching for the cultural meaning of flies, nothing much comes up… an article in Kyoto Journal sites Issa as a major writer on the fly situation… i read the following poem a number of days ago…

やれうつな蠅が手をすり足をする

yare utsuna hae ga te wo suri ashi wo suru

No, not that fly!

It wrings its hands,

its feet, imploringly.1

… about which the author of the Kyoto Journal article says…

 Among the hundreds of poems written by Japanese authors about flies and their vexed hunters, the most famous —there’s a whole book about its long genealogy and vast progeny — is without doubt the one written by Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827):2

… i wonder why Issa had such a preoccupation with flies?… i am not sure that the straightforward answer, that they are ubiquitous and utterly annoying, is the best answer… i think one needs to look to what the spiritual purpose of flies are in a religion like Buddhism, to remind one that being in the moment is important, but not always likable… and that compassion is often difficult…

… another article in Tricycle, a Buddhist publication… about compassion, about flies… a quote from it…

Compassion in all its flavors is woven through the enormous canon of Buddhist thought. Its root meaning is “to suffer with.” We are able to feel compassion toward those beings who look like us and those who are most familiar. (These are not the same thing; dissimilar creatures can be deeply familiar, as we know from our time spent with dogs, with horses—even lizards.) At what point do we extend this circle past what is known, past what looks like us? At what point do we suffer with what is completely strange? And how far must that circle extend before it includes the sheep bot fly?3

… well, it seems after all, there was something to pay attention to in the morning’s poems…

02 Daily Read:

Haiku by Issa…

… one about a staring contest with a very large frog… this is a famous one i think… i look up the cultural significance of frogs and find an article on the usc.edu website that has this to say about frogs in Japanese culture…

In Japan, the frog is usually seen as a symbol of good fortune associated with magical powers. Because the Japanese word for frog is “kaeru”, which is pronounced in the same way as “return”, travelers carry a small frog amulet with the intent of returning safely home.1

another article on frog symbolism confirms the above and adds the moon as an association with frogs, the three legged frog and the moon, the three phases of the moon…

… the frog is associated with rainfall and good harvests, and is a symbol of spring, the seasonal reference in the poem… that the artist has a staring contest with the frog presents a kind of stand off moment… is it reluctance to pursue a spiritual journey?… is it a latter stage in life confronting youth?…

… another poem about being a devout Buddhist while killing mosquitos… Buddhism argues respect to all creatures, even the annoying ones… some sects can barely walk through the landscape for fear of killing something unwittingly… yet, there are annoying creatures that can actually make us sick… we kill them regardless of our devotions… mosquitos are a spring-summer reference… the poem perhaps about spiritual journeys having difficulties…

here is an article about insects and Japanese culture that is more general in nature…

03 The Daily Read, Part II:

The Haiku of Issa…

… today’s haikus are a little enigmatic…

… one about a moth finding brightness in the chamber of a woman, and being burnt to a crisp… the woman’s chamber is significant and brings the poet directly into the action… there is no need to describe the setting as a woman’s chamber unless there is an intended double meaning, that the poet is drawn to the flame of the woman and metaphorically burnt to a crisp for his labors… it does not sound as though his visit was entirely satisfactory… i look up moths as cultural symbols and find nothing substantial…

… another about scarecrows all being crooked… i look up the cultural significance of scarecrows in Japan and there is some… it is a folk deity, known as Kuebiko, representing folk wisdom, knowledge and agriculture1… Issa notes that he doesn’t know about the people in the town but the scarecrows are crooked… is this meant in a corruption kind of way?… or just a state of general disorderliness represented by lack of attention to their scarecrows, which are deities after all… or that one can expect problems with wisdom, knowledge and agriculture from the town he is entering… he identifies the town as his home town, so maybe it is about memories and formative experience… is he talking about himself more than the town?…

… another about plum trees blooming in January in other provinces… this is odd, plum trees do bloom from January into February and are considered harbingers of spring… so Issa is saying they bloom in other provinces but not where he is… since he does not identify the province he is in, i assume it is metaphorical, something about old age perhaps?… reaching the place of having little life left to offer?… an article in Wikipedia2 confirms the plum blossom as a symbol of spring and is believed to be a protective charm against evil… so the lack of blossoms is likely about old age and or lack of protection against evil… both?…