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April 23, 2015

Poetry Friday--Haiku Master, Issa

Kobayashi Issa, known as "Issa," is one of Japan's haiku masters. He lived a poor and childless life from 1763 to 1828. The Kobayashi Issa website has a brief synopsis.

Issa's haiku deal with the little things in life, including all manner of insects and animals. His compassion for creatures is evident in his work. He also finds humor in his impoverished condition and helps 21st century readers to put their lives in perspective.

Over his lifetime, he wrote more than 20,000 haiku! David G. Lanoue has translated half of them and has them archived here. Please take a little time to browse through. Pick a topic, such as "sparrow" or "frog" or "cat" and settle in.

Here are a few sample haiku from the archive. All of them portray an element of play:
new grass--
a sparrow and I
just playing

the kitten dances
round and round...
falling leaves

the children
make it a playground...
burnt field

playing with
the rambunctious dog...
little butterfly

a good day, eh?
fleas dancing
and hopping

just for fun
a game of cards...
clear fall weather

The archive is interesting in that Lanoue presents the poem in Japanese characters, transliterated, and translated. Also included is contextual information so that we can better understand Issa's words and intent.

furu inu ya mimizu no uta ni kanji-gao

the old dog
looks as if he's listening...
earthworms sing

One Japanese saijiki, a book of season words with examples, says the following about the expression "earthworms sing" (mimizu naku): "Earthworms don't sing. On autumn evenings, when one says one is hearing the 'jii-jii' song of earthworms, in fact they are referring to mole-crickets"; Kiyose (Tokyo: Kakugawa Shoten, 1984) 296. Shinji Ogawa notes, in modern usage, the expression can refer to any "unknown bugs" singing in the autumn.

This month Michelle Heidenrich Barnes has a clerihew challenge. A clerihew is a simple four-lined poem with a rhyme scheme of AABB. The first line mentions a famous person and the other three usually poke fun at that person. I contributed a clerihew about Issa. I go easy on him and don't ridicule his life, although some people might think a life spent living among, and writing about, bugs is a bit funny! (Please note, I changed one word between the version posted on Michelle's page, and the version I illustrated.)

I've illustrated the clerihew. On my photo editing software, the background has a lovely weathered copper and coral coloring. When I posted it here on blogger, the color is green and orangey. Not at all attractive. What's up with that? Different programs, but the same monitor. Why do the colors change? If anyone can explain it to me, I'd sure appreciate it!

Poem © Diane Mayr, all rights reserved. Photo of Issa statue courtesy Issa Memorial Museum. I have edited it for the illustration.

I'll finish by recommending two children's picture books, which cover Issa and his work: Cool Melons--Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa by Matthew Gollub, and Today and Today: Haiku of Issa illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

Renée is hosting the Round-Up at No Water River. See you there!


  1. Diane, thank you for the wonderful haiku link! I enjoyed reading the Issa poetry you shared, too. Your clerihew is great--what a fun format!

  2. I always learn something from Random Noodling. Thanks, Diane!

  3. What a beautifully illustrated version of your clerihew, Diane! (I like the one-word change BTW). I just edited my post to include a link here. Thanks for joining in the DMC challenge this month– I'm always grateful for your unique and thought-provoking contributions.

    1. Thanks for adding the link! And for your kind words.

  4. Lovely post, Diane - thanks for sharing Issa's work. I've written a few clerihews but I learned the form from someone who insisted that the meter should be wonky in order for the poem to work - like REALLY wonky, completely off. I'm going to do some research about that. Maybe next week I'll post a sample of one that goes nuts. In any case, your postings of haikus always help me calm down! Such tiny, lovely gems.

    1. Yes, I know about the wonky meter, but it's hard to purposely write wonky, and I didn't want to disrespect Issa. From what I read, I don't think he'd mind, though.

      Clerihew's own clerihews don't seem to be off by a lot. http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/bentley1.html

  5. Love all the Issa haiku you shared today, and loved your clerihew (great art to go with it)! I just borrowed Cool Melons from the library and am anxious to read it -- will have to look for the other book you mentioned too.

    1. Thank for appreciating the "art," Jama. Perhaps your monitor displayed for you what I hoped to see color-wise on mine!

  6. We are working on poetry projects in my class. One student chose Issa. He made his video today. I plan to post it on Sunday. I'll link back to this post. I use Cool Melons anytime I introduce haiku.

    1. I look forward to seeing the video! A book that I think is excellent for teaching the mechanics of haiku to kids is Haiku by Patricia Donegan (Tuttle, 2003).

  7. Beautiful AND informative, Diane. 20,000 haiku -- very impressive! How many do you suppose you have written?

    1. Ha, ha, I'd say about 2,000. And maybe another 500 misc. poems. It's all a guess!

  8. Yours is one of my favorite of all the clerihews!