Kobayashi Issa ~ Selected Haiku


Kobayahi Issa (1763-1828) was a well-educated Haikai poet and renowned for his haiku. He suffered much in his life and became a lay Pure Land Buddhist monk. He is known for his use of the common tongue and slang, as well as composing very intellectual haiku. Issa is viewed more as a common everyman (though classically trained and educated in Edo) more so than Bashō and Buson. His popularity owes much to veneration by Masaoka Shiki.

Hey! Don’t swat:
the fly wrings his hands
on bended knees.

Don’t kill that poor fly!
He cowers, wringing
his hands for mercy

A man, just one —
also a fly, just one —
in the huge drawing room.

I’m going out,
flies, so relax,
make love.

Now we are leaving,
the butterflies can make love
to their hearts’ desire

From the bough
floating downriver,
insect song.

Silverfish escaping –
fathers, children

The cricket
proudly pricks up its whiskers
and sings

I’m going to roll over,
so please move,

grasshopper –
do not trample to pieces
the pearls of bright dew

These sea slugs,
they just don’t seem

Even with insects–
some can sing,
some can’t.

House burnt down –
dance in embers

For you too, my fleas,
the night passes so slowly.
But you won’t be lonely.

So many flea bites,
but on her lovely young skin
they are beautiful

issa… you have survived to feed
this year’s mosquitoes

What good luck!
Bitten by
this year’s mosquitoes too.

A giant firefly:
that way, this way, that way, this –
and it passes by.

the first firefly…
but he got away and i…
air in my fingers

softly folded fawn
shivers,shaking off the butterfly…
and sleeps again

The distant mountains
are reflected in the eye
of the dragonfly

O flea! whatever you do,
don’t jump;
that way is the river.

Under my house
an inchworm
measuring the joists.

The distant mountains
are reflected in the eye
of the dragonfly

you are just too late
to help me with the lamp… my moth

The toad! It looks like
it could belch
a cloud.

gazing up at the mountain –
a toad

Frog and I,
to eyeball.

The old dog listens
intently, as if to the
worksongs of the worms

After a long nap,
the cat yawns, rises, and goes out
looking for love

Goes out,
comes back–
the loves of a cat.

The winter fly
I caught and finally freed
the cat quickly ate

At the cat mewing,
She made faces and kept on
Bouncing the ball.

The spring rain;
a little girl teaches
the cat to dance.

The kitten
Holds down the leaf,
For a moment

Despite the morning frost –
a child
selling flowers

The season’s first melon
clutched in its arms –
the child sleeps

Heat shimmers –
clinging to my eyes
is that smiling face

The mother eats
the bitter parts –
mountain persimmons

Counting flea bites
while she nurses
her baby

The child lulled to sleep,
she washes its clothes –
summer moon

She’s put the child to sleep
And now she washes clothes
Under the summer moon.

Washing the saucepans –
The moon glows on her hands
in the shallow river.

First kimono –
may you quickly grow to
a naughty age

Garden butterfly –
as the baby crawls, it flies
crawls close, flies on

Today too!
today too! Kites
caught by the nettle tree

The toddler –
as he laughs
autumn evening

“Give me
that harvest moon”
cries the child

Exhausted by
the crowd of children –
a sparrow

The young sparrows
return into Jizo’s sleeve
for sanctuary

An exhausted sparrow
in the midst
of a crowd of children.

Young sparrows get out of the way!
get out of the way!
A great horse is coming!

From the Great Buddha’s
great nose, a swallow comes
gliding out

The woodpecker —
Still drilling
As the sun goes down.

Shielding an infant
from the autumn wind –
a scarecrow

Spring rain –
a child teaches its cat
to dance

Asked his age
he holds up one hand –
summer clothes

A good world –
The dewdrops fall
By Ones, by twos.

The dragonfly,
Dressed in red,
Off to the festival.

Ducks bobbing on the water –
Are they also, tonight,
Hoping to get lucky?

The evening clears —
On the pale sky
Row on row of autumn mountains.

Windy fall —
These are the scarlet flowers
She liked to pick.

Pissing in the snow
Outside my door –
It makes a very straight hole.

Hey, sparrow!
Out of the way,
Horse is coming.

One human being,
One fly,
In a large room.

Flopped on the fan,
The big cat

In my deserted home village
The old cherry tree
Now in bloom.

Spring rain —
A thrown-away letter
Windblown in the grove.

A night boat
Sails away
Illuminated by a wildfire.

Don’t know about the people
But all the scarecrows
Are crooked

In spring rain
A pretty girl

Face of the spring moon —
About twelve years old,
I’d say.

The spring day
In the pools.

Visiting the graves,
The old dog
Leads the way.

From the end of the nose
Of the Buddha on the moor
Hang icicles.

Even considered
In the most favorable light
He looks cold.

Not yet become a Buddha,
This ancient pine tree,

Deer licking
First frost
From each other’s coats.

I’m here —
the snow falling.

Moon, plum blossoms,
this, that,
and the day goes.

Wild goose, wild goose,
At what age
Did you make your first journey?

One bath
after another –
how stupid!

her row veering off,
the peasant woman plants
toward her crying child

Once in the box
every one of them is equal –
the chess pieces

Sprawled like an X –
how carefree,
how lonely

My empty face,
by lightning

all creeping things –
the bell of transience.

What a misty day,
The angels above must be bored
Even unto death.

A hazy day —
Even the gods
Must feel listless.

A woman dozing —
The breath from her nostrils
Stirs a cool breeze.

In the beggar’s tin
a few thin copper coins
and this evening rain

Stillness –
clouds peak
in the lake.

By lightning,
I creak
across the bridge.

A faint yellow rose
almost hidden in deep grass
and then it moves.

Mother, I weep
for you as I watch the sea
each time I watch the sea

From that woman
on the beach, dusk pours out
across the evening waves

In my hidden house,
no teeth left in the mouth,
but good luck abounds

Just to say the word
home, that one word alone,
so pleasantly cool

Napped half the day;
no one
punished me!

That gorgeous kite
from the beggar’s shack.

My dear old village,
pierces like a thorn
every memory of home

My old home –
wherever I touch,

Back gate opens
itself –
how long the day.

Buddha Law,
in leaf dew
plumes of pampas grass –
the helpless tremblings
of a lonely heart

What’s the lord’s vast wealth
to me, his millions and more?
Dew on trembling grass

A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

This world of dew
is only a world of dew –
and yet
*written after the death of one of his children

A world of grief and pain:
Flowers bloom;
Even then …

We humans–
squirming around
among the blossoming flowers.

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.

In the midst of this world
we stroll along the roof of hell
gawking at flowers

blooming lotuses
in this world…

Just simply alive,
Both of us, I
And the poppy.

Early spring –
stream flows
toward my door

In spring rain
A pretty girl

Face of the spring moon —
About twelve years old,
I’d say.

The spring day
In the pools.

The tree will be cut
Not knowing the bird
Makes a nest

As the great old trees
are marked for felling, the birds
build their new spring nests

Seeming as though
this must be the last of it —
so much spring snow!

A day of spring —
wherever any water is,
in darkness lingering.

Plum blossoms:
My spring
Is an ecstacy.

Thus spring begins: old
stupidities repeated,
new errs invented

With this rising bath-mist
deep in a moonlit night,
spring finally begins.

This year on, forever,
it’s all gravy for me now –
now spring arrives

My spring is just this:
a single bamboo shoot,
a willow branch

O owl!
make some other face.
This is spring rain.

Moist spring moon –
raise a finger
and it drips.

In my old home
which I forsook, the cherries
are in bloom.

Blossoms at night,
and the faces of people
moved by music.

in the shadow of the cherry blossom
complete strangers
there are none…

A sheet of rain.
Only one man remains among
cherry blossom shadows

A flowering plum
and a nightingale’s love song
he remains alone

A world of trials,
and if the cherry blossoms,
it simply blossoms

ours is a world of suffering
even if cherry-flowers bloom

The blossoming plum!
Today all the fires of hell
remain empty

Moon, plum blossoms,
this, that,
and the day goes.

Not very anxious
to bloom,
my plum tree

New Year’s Day–
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

I am envious
Of him who is being scolded:
The end of the year.

The new year arrived
in utter simplicity –
and a deep blue sky

snow melts
and the village floods
with children

The snow having melted,
the village
is full of children.

People working fields,
from my deepest heart, I bow.
Now a little nap.

My noontime nap
disrupted by voices singing
rice-planting songs

Before I arrived,
who were the people living here?
Only violets remain.

why did the pink break,
oh why did it break?

How comfortable
my summer cotton robe
when drenched with sweat

Summer night –
even the stars
are whispering to each other.

A day of haze;
the great room
is deserted and still.

“The peony was as big as this,”
Says the little girl
Opening her arms.

The peony
Made me measure it
With my fan.

the peony
it had to be measured
with a fan

Summer shower –
naked horse
naked rider.

on a naked horse
in pouring rain!

A sudden shower falls —
and naked I am riding
on a naked horse.

the young girl
blows her nose
in the evening glory

Cool breeze,
in a grass-blade.

Heat waves –
his smile still
before me.

Step by step
up summer mountain –
suddenly the sea.

The holes in the wall
play the flute
this autumn evening.

O autumn winds,
tell me where I’m bound, to which
particular hell

Before this autumn wind
even the shadows of mountains
shudder and tremble

The evening clears —
On the pale sky
Row on row of autumn mountains.

Autumn wind –
mountain’s shadow

the puppy
completely unaware that
autumn has come

The puppy that knows not
that autumn has come
is a Buddha

Windy fall —
These are the scarlet flowers
She liked to pick.

Cries of wild geese,
spread about me.

Wild geese murmuring–
are they spreading
rumors about me?

Passing wild geese,
lightening night
mountains of Shinano.

Dawn – fog
of Mt. Asama spreads
on my table.

Wild geese, homing
once more through smoke
of Mt. Asama

The buddha on the moor;
From the end of his nose
Hangs an icicle.

The dogs
kindly get out of the way,
in the snowy road.

The puppy too
they pelt with snowballs
till he scampers off!

Just beyond the gate,
a neat yellow hole
someone pissed in the snow

The winter season;
a young harlot
scraping the soot from a saucepan.

Winter seclusion;
listening, that evening,
to rain in the mountains.

Give me a homeland,
and a passionate woman,
and a winter alone

Just by being,
I’m here –
in the snow-fall.

Gratitude for gifts,
even snow on my bedspread
a gift from the Pure Land

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.

Hailstones –
into the fire

Brilliant moon,
is it true that you too
must pass in a hurry

Like misty moonlight,
watery, bewildering
our temporal way

Here is Shinano
are famous moons, and buddhas,
and our good noodles

I wish she were here
to listen to my bitching
and enjoy this moon

What a moon –
if only she were here,
my bitter wife.

My grumbling wife,
if only she were here —
This moon tonight…

Under this bright moon
I sit like an old buddha
knees spread wide

In this mountain village,
shining in my soup bowl,
the bright moon arrives

The moon and the flowers,
forty-nine years,
walking around, wasting time.

Full moon:
my ramshackle hut
is what it is.

Bright moon,
welcome to my hut –
such as it is

Crescent moon–
bent to the shape
of the cold.

Great moon
woven in plum scent,
all mine.

onto Mt. Kiso,
the Milky Way.

Lost in bamboo
but when moon lights –
my house

Faint, over the moonlit
slope, a frozen
temple gong.

A lovely thing to see
through the paper window’s hole,
the Galaxy.

The vanity of men
they would like to retain
this passing winter moon

at the beauty spot
the cranes alight
on litter

Reed warblers
sing the great river

Cuckoo singing:
I have nothing special to do,
neither does the burweed.

Children imitating cormorants
are even more wonderful
than cormorants.

Even on a small island,
a man tilling the field,
a lark singing above it.

My old village lies
far beyond what we can see,
but there the lark is singing

When the wild turnip
burst into full blossom
a skylark sang

Singing skylark –
that narrow path
leads to the sea.

Ah, the sad expression
in the eyes of that caged bird –
envying the butterfly!

katatsuburi soro-soro nobore fuji no yama
Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
but slowly, slowly.

O summer snail,
you climb but slowly, slowly
to the top of Fuji

inch by inch, climb
Mount Fuji!

o-tabisho wo waga mono-gao ya katatsuburi
imperial inn–
acting like he owns it
a snail

ashi moto e itsu kitarishi yo katatsuburi
Right at my feet —
and when did you get here,

at my feet
when did you get here?

yoigoshi no cha mizu akari ya katatsuburi
glimmer of tea water
left out overnight…
a snail

asayake ga yorokobashii ka katatsuburi
does the red dawn
delight you

Red morning sky,
Are you glad of it?

katatsuburi chô wa ikiseki sawagu nari
the butterfly in a mad

Like some of us
he looks very important –
this snail

The snail gets up
And goes to bed
With very little fuss

Snail – baring
to the moon

in moonlight
going bare-chested…


4 thoughts on “Kobayashi Issa ~ Selected Haiku

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