3 Haiku by Kobayashi Issa

       Children imitating cormorants
are even more wonderful
       than cormorants.

       Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

       Mother I never knew,
every time I see the ocean,
       every time

These haiku are among my favorites by Issa. Robert Hass, author of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa, (HarperCollins, 1994) is an excellent editor and translator. Background material for each poet is so comprehensive, I’m walking and observing alongside them. Every precious moment and memory feels familiar, whether I’ve experienced them or not. It’s comforting to know not every haiku they wrote was great.

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) “. . . has been described as a Whitman or Neruda in miniature, probably because his poems teem with creaturely life. . . His main English translator, a Scot, compares him to Robert Burns. . . And in other ways Issa’s sensibility resembles that of Charles Dickens—the humor and pathos, the sense of a childhood wound, the willingness to be silly and downright funny, and the fierceness about injustice.”

Neotropic cormorants by Alan D. Wilson @ Nature’s Pics Online


Author: Mary Jo Malo

Christian, mother, grandmother, and poet of occasional worth.

34 thoughts on “3 Haiku by Kobayashi Issa”

  1. I love it. I can relate to spiders not having to worry as I keep house casually and save the spiders from the cats, and when they get stuck in sinks and the bathtub.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Most people seem to relate to the spider haiku, Tim. Issa also wrote hundreds of poems about crickets, flies, fleas, lice and bedbugs too! His humor and sympathy for these little pests is betrayed on occasion by his self-acknowledged but non-Buddhist behavior of destroying them. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Dear spiders, I try to ignore your webs… but I can’t! (I don’t know if this is good haiku, but it is my heart)
    God bless you Mary Jo Malo! You bring smiles to my lips…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you kindly, Silvia. I only ignore the webs I don’t see and justify my poor housekeeping by remembering they catch and eat even more annoying bugs. 🙂 God bless you and your faithful ministry in Warri.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I love these, particularly the first one. Aside from the thought of children’s delight in nature, it reminds me of the first time I heard a cormorant call. When my husband and I lived in Florida, we were very taken with all the different types of birds. We bought a recording that identified their calls and started listening to it in the car. All of a sudden there was this awful racket that sounded like a bird being beaten with a board. The cormorant’s call.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That’s hilarious, Liz! I’ve seen a few on Lake Michigan but never had the pleasure of hearing their racket. I will definitely check it out at one of those bird call websites. Perhaps Issa knew readers would also hear children imitating that sound as well as envisioning their running around and flapping their arms. Thank you for sharing that moment. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  4. All three of these Kobayashi Issa poems are evocatively great, Mary Jo!

    (The first one is “for the birds,” the second one “has legs,” and the third one “holds water.” Okay, I’ll stop now. 🙂 )

    Excellent photo choice, too!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha ha, Dave! I’ll add another…A Tale of Two Cities. The Reign of Terror is represented by the serious cormorant culling they are undergoing on our Great Lakes. The better tale is Issa’s wonderful poems about cormorants and children. Apparently, there’s a lovely tradition of watching the cormorant fishermen, who use the bird to catch fish for them, as a kind of marvel. In contrast Bashō wrote this haiku: Exciting at first, then sad, watching the cormorant-fishing. You see, the fishermen tie a string around the birds’ necks so they can’t swallow what they catch. The birds are dutiful and are no doubt fed at some point. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Guess I’m partial to the first one because I love the picture. And the delight expressed as children get creative with imitation, which is so important to the creative process! I related to the spider one too haha. Pretty sure they don’t spend much time worrying about me! Thank you Mary Jo. 💕

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Wow, Mary Jo, these are lovely. I read them several times, yet cannot pick out a favorite, as each is stunning in their own right. Thank you for sharing these works, and words with us! 😊

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There really is depth in these deceptively simple poems. I’ve yet to capture their genius with a less is more approach, opting instead to jam them with as much as possible. A Western thing, no doubt. This is why I enjoy posting the masters…traditions are important. Thank you for your continued support, dearest Marina. And BTW I read that Greece and N. Macedonia have cormorant-fishermen. Many hugs for you! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I just love that first haiku, MaryJo. There is nothing as delightful as children at play. Everybody has some books or poems that are better than others. I suppose it depends on the intensity of the inspiration and the way the words are put together.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s quite encouraging to hear that each of these masters of haiku wrote thousands of poems but only considered a few of them to be excellent. In addition to minimal requirements of syllable and line count, they had traditional themes and symbolic devices with which we are rarely acquainted. They belonged to and headed schools. As a solo Westerner I’m more freewheeling with non-traditional topics and violate simple observation, imagery and Buddhist haiku, choosing to jam as much philosophy and transcendental notions into that ‘restrictive’ form. I feel drawn back to write in my more open style in order at least feel more authentic and to take more time to perfect without the pressure of self-imposed blogging expectations. Thank you for taking time to comment, Robbie. I really appreciate this. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

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