Sunday, May 2, 2010

Drifting and Dejected - Kobayashi Issa

Today I write about my two favorite  Kobayashi Issa haiku poems.  Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶?) (1763 - 1827), was a Japanese poet and lay Buddhist priest.  He was the oldest son of a somewhat wealthy land owner living on a farm in the mountainous countryside of Nagano, Japan.

Issa had a hard life; this explains two anguished, emotional poems I find quite expressive and truely heart-felt .  To fully appreciate these haiku one must know a little about Issa's life.

After his mother died Issa's father re-married.  It was soon thereafter that Issa's new stepmother began tormenting him.  She physically beat him from the young age of 8 until he was 18 years old.  When his father finally noticed the abuse, instead of punishing his wife, he put Issa out of the house - letting friends know that his son might need a place to stay while in exile. 

At this time in Issa's life, while alone and trying to survive walking through the countryside he wrote this poem:

Floating weeds,
as blow the winds of the floating world---
Drifting and drifting.

Ukigusa ya
ukiyo no kaze no
iu mama ni.

After traveling for many years from place to place, disappearing for at least 10 years, Issa arrived in Edo.  Throughout his travels Issa had gained many friends and disciples of his poetry and paintings. 

Then his father died.  Issa was summoned back to the Nagano family farm to claim the inheritance his father had left his only son.

Upon returning to his childhood village, Issa encountered his bitter stepmother, vindictive stepbrother, and  a petty local government official in league to cheat him of his inheritance.  Issa wrote this poem:

Old village, my home,
everything I touch about you
turns to a thorn!

Furusato ya
yoru mo sawaru mo
bara no hana.

These words are indeed powerful.

Reference: Autumn wind haiku : selected poems / by Kobayashi Issa
Haiku translations by: Lewis Mackenzie