Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Kobayashi Issa: The Dragonfly in the Weeds

            For this post I looked at one of my favorite haiku composers: Kobayashi Issa. Issa was alive in the late 18th century and he passed away in 1828. He came from a small farming town called Shinano in what is today Nagano prefecture. He traveled a lot in his life in order to ascertain poetic inspiration. For those who believe that only those who suffer greatly can produce great art, Issa fits the description.
            According to all the biographical accounts that I perused, he had three wives, of which two passed away. Also, according to different accounts, he had between four and eight children that died in infancy. His mother also died when he was a small child, and he absolutely hated his stepmother.
            He may have had one daughter with his third wife who survived to live a full life, but I am not sure. Edo (Tokyo of today) was where he spent most of his life. He did gather a significant reputation, but his iconoclastic style ruffled the feathers of a lot of his contemporaries.
            He wrote over 20,000 haiku, and he refrained from consistency. He wrote about numerous topics, but he is usually associated with writing about children or things mundane. His distaste for pomp and circumstance is obvious. Aesthetics is something that I believe he took seriously, but he expressed his appreciation of it in an unconventional way. The following haiku are a variety from his extensive collection. There is no consistent theme, and some of these may seem very simple. I would suggest the reader really dig deep in trying to relate to what he was trying to say. Ironically, the deeper you dig, the farther you may be from his intention.

To-ji in Kyoto

Only the tower
Of To-ji is visible,
In the summer grove.

Kobayashi Issa

To-ji is a temple in Kyoto, and I believe it is the tallest in the city. Apparently, in Issa’s days, To-ji was usually the first thing travelers coming from the east would see as they approached Kyoto.


The ice and snow melts,
And the village overflows
With happy children.

Kobayashi Issa


The spring rains fall down,
And there are those left unfed,
The ducks are quacking.

Kobayashi Issa

I am not sure if it is the ducks who are “left unfed”, himself, or perhaps those unfortunate. One way or the other, it is a compelling scene.


Bees in the thicket,
I cannot help but feel envy,
For your bright future!

Kobayashi Issa


Butterflies flying,
And I am just a piece of
Useless, old garbage.

Kobayashi Issa


The heavens above,
Dim to a beautiful tone,
In sweltering heat.

Kobayashi Issa


Can be found here
Flea-bitten and yet,
The youth, still are a form of
Absolute beauty.

Kobayashi Issa


The distant mountains
Are reflected in the eye
Of a dragonfly.

Kobayashi Issa

This one is my favorite.


  1. Wonderful post -- Issa is my favorite haiku poet so far. :)
    Love the haiku you've shared here --- I too love the final haiku.

  2. cool stuff you have got and you keep update all of us. accurate japanese translation