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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Some Humorous Issa Dewdrops...

©David G. Lanoue. Rights reserved.

 

Greetings, Poetry Lovers!

 

Thank you for continuing on this Poetry Month dewdrop journey with Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), courtesy of the work of author, poet, and professor David G. Lanoue. (Not sure what I'm talking about?  Here are links to my intro post for April 2  and last week's post for April 9 .)

 

We'll be delving into Issa's dewdrop symbolism more deeply next week, and in the final post for this year's "bonus" Friday in April the week after that. But now that you've gotten a taste of these glorious dewdrops – shining gems of transience that they are – I thought you might enjoy a little break for humor here in the middle.

 

As you might recall, Issa's life was full of tragedy and hardship and loss.  His respectful sensitivity to small, vulnerable creatures, disenfranchised people, and even to drifting plants and tiny dewdrops has made his work endearing to generation after generation of readers. BUT, Issa embraced and expressed not just the melancholy or poignant moments of life; his poetry offers up plenty of gladness and humor - often ironic - as well.

 

The poem pictured above could have been penned this year, right?  Especially in light of the pandemic. 

 

young folk

just don't get it...

evening dew

 

Of this haiku, David writes:

 

Young people don't understand the Buddhist lesson of impermanence that the dewdrops teach.  In Issa's time as in our time, they assume that they'll live forever.  Maybe that's a good thing?

 

 

Here are a few more of David's dewdrop haiku translations that I hope bring a smile:

 

 

1810

.ひきの顔露のけしきになりもせよ

hiki no kao tsuyu no keshiki ni nari mo seyo

 

 

face of a toad--

adopt the mood

of dewdrops!

 

 

In Issa's poetic vision the faces of toads always appear grumpy. Here, he encourages the scowling toad to adopt the (calm? peaceful?) attitude of the dewdrops.

 

 

And another address to a wee creature:

 

 

1816

.白露の玉ふみかくなきりぎりす

shira tsuyu no tama fumika[ku] na kirigirisu

 

don't crush

the dewdrop pearls!

katydid

 

 

A katydid (kirigirisu) is a green or light brown insect, a cousin of crickets and grasshoppers. The males possess special organs on the wings with which they produce shrill calls. Although katydid is the closest English equivalent, many translators (such as R. H. Blyth) use the more familiar "grasshopper" and "cricket." See Haiku (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1949-1952; rpt. 1981-1982/reset paperback edition) 4.1068-69.

 

And, speaking of insects:

 

 

1821

.朝露や虫に貰ふて面あらふ

asa tsuyu ya mushi [ni] moraute tsura arau

 

morning dew--

washing my face

adding a bug

 

 

Issa uses the dew (from grass, presumably) to wash his face. He ends up with a visitor. Issa is the most humorous of the great masters of haiku, but his humor often seems to evoke a deeper level of meaning--as (I believe) it does here.

 

 

And last but not least today:

 

 

1821

.ばか蔓に露もかまふなかまふなよ

baka tsuru ni tsuyu mo kamau-na kamau-na yo

 

 

hey dewdrops--

don't tease

the foolish vine!

 

 

Issa imagines that the "foolish" vine is thinking that the droplets on its leaves signify rain (hence badly-needed moisture for its roots), but instead they are only tantalizing dewdrops that will soon evaporate.

 

All haiku translations and comments ©David G. Lanoue.  Rights reserved.

 

Many thanks to David for permission to share!

 

AND:  Wishing everyone a **HAPPY International Haiku Poetry Day** tomorrow, Saturday, April 17! :0)

 

Be sure to visit the always-fabulous Jama's Alphabet Soup for this week's Roundup.  Are you following the Kidlit 2021 Progressive Poem?  If, like me, you've gotten behind – no worries!  You can jump in any time and get caught up.  Margaret has a list of all the links here.

 

Keep smiling!

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Poetry Friday - Issa's Dewdrops, Pearly Ones...

 

Greetings, Poetry Lovers!  Thanks for the enthusiasm about my National Poetry Month project for Poetry Fridays over here, a little time spent with recent Issa haiku translations by Dr. David G. Lanoue - specifically, Issa's dewdrop haiku.  (Just scroll back to last week's post if you didn't catch all that.)

 

First, a little diversion.  In the comments last week, Janet Clare Fagel mentioned a book she has loved and used over the years when sharing haiku with students, IN A SPRING GARDEN, edited by Richard Lewis and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (The Dial Press, 1965).  How did I not have this book in my collection of old (& some new) haiku books for young readers?! I am so grateful she mentioned it.  I was able to find a very nice copy on Ebay.

 

The book presents haiku by old masters corresponding to the unfolding of a spring day, beginning to end.  Many poems, such as the Issa dewdrop haiku pictured above with my dewdrop of a doggie, Rita, were reprinted from R. H. Blyth's Haiku volumes (Hokuseido Press, Tokyo).  Of course, the art is fantastic.  Thanks again, Janet.

 

The poem above ends with "pearls of bright dew."  If you go to David G. Lanoue's Issa Haiku Archive page (remember, there are upwards of 10,000 poems he's translated, plus hundreds of new ones added during quarantine!) and type "pearls of dew" in the search box, you'll find several examples there, including this one, followed by David's commentary:

 

1814

.露の玉どう転げても愛出度ぞ


tsuyu no tama dô korogete mo medetai zo

 

pearls of dew--
whichever way you tumble
is happy

 

 

Based on Issa's many other haiku about dewdrops, their happiness is due to Amida Buddha's vow to save sentient beings from this temporary world of sorrow. They fall to nothingness, but Buddha will, in a sense, catch them. Of course, the dewdrops are sentient only in Issa's imagination; they more accurately represent Issa and his human readers, present company included.

 

Translations and commentary ©David G. Lanoue.  Rights reserved. 

 

One reason Issa is so beloved is that his body of work demonstrates his ability to see life sympathetically from many perspectives - other people, animals (especially the most humble or cast aside of humans and beasts), plants - and, even,  dewdrops!  As David writes in A Taste of Issa, Issa is known, among other things, for his "warm, loving connection with living things, especially animals but also including humans and plants.  As a Buddhist artist brimming with compassion and respect for his fellow beings, however small, Issa likes to address his nonhuman colleagues directly...." (David adds that critics have called Issa 'a poet of "personification" or "anthropomorphism," ' but rather than projecting human attributes onto a nonhuman subject, Issa recognizes even a small creature such as a snail as a "fellow traveler on the road of existence.")

 

In November, for a Zoom gathering for a Hot Springs, Arkansas, haiku conference, David delivered a presentation called "Dewdrop Worlds - Recent Discoveries from Issa."  (I was able to listen in on my phone from my studio that day, but, alas, couldn't see the visuals.  David kindly shared them with me and I'll share a couple of those this month, too.)

 

"Dew is a traditional Buddhist image for how brief and fleeting life is," David explains.  Issa was a Buddhist of the JōdoShinshū faith, a school of Pure Land Buddhism.  We'll explore this theme of transience a little more as the month goes on.

 

For now, here are a couple more of David's pearly dewdrop translations:  

  

 

   ****

 

 

1821

.福の神見たまへ露が玉になる


fuku no kami mita ma[e] tsuyu ga tama ni naru

 

good luck god--
dewdrops are transformed
into pearls

 

 

Issa plays with the different meanings of tama: ball, sphere, jewel, and gem. He imagines that the god of luck is bestowing him with riches.

 

 

****

 

 

and this one from 1811:

 

.世の中は少しよすぎて玉の露


yo [no] naka wa sukoshi yo su[gi]te tama no tsuyu

 

 

passing briefly
through this world...
dewdrop pearls

 

Translations and commentary ©David G. Lanoue. Rights reserved.

 

 

 

Thanks as always for joining in, and be sure to check out all the sparkling offerings over at The Opposite of Indifference, where the incandescent Tabatha is rounding up Poetry Friday.  Thanks, Tabatha, and continued thanks to David for the generous sharing of these Issa haiku!

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Happy Poetry Month! April Poetry Friday Series with Issa's "Dewdrop Haiku," translated by David G. Lanoue

A couple of the MANY books by David G. Lanoue.

 

Greetings, Poetry Lovers -  It's OUR month!  Happy April. 

 

For all the April Happenings in the Poetry Friday universe this year, see Susan's Poetry Month roundup here.

 

It's been a year since we all locked down, and some of us have been more productive than others.  Friends of this blog know the name David G. Lanoue – author, poet, Issa scholar, a past president of the Haiku Society of America, and RosaMary Professor of English at Xavier University of New Orleans (he has taught there since 1981).

 

A natural teacher, David maintains a haiku website where, among other things, he shares his more than 10,000 translations of haiku by Issa (family name, Kobayashi), who lived from 1763 to 1827.  You can find those translations, searchable by sunject, here

 

He also shares an Issa haiku each day on Twitter - @issa_haiku - in English and in Japanese.  (Until Yahoo Groups ended in December, these were also available via email.)

 

About that productivity… With extra time while quarantined last year, David decided to dive into MORE translating - as in, hundreds more poems.  Issa wrote 20,000-some-odd haiku, after all.  I enjoyed reading the never-before-seen translations.  In the fall, he shared many new "dewdrop" haiku, and that's when I knew I wanted to pass along some of these glimmering gems here, if David was game.  He generously was.

 

So as introduction, we'll start with a well-known haiku by Issa, translated by many scholars over the years.  Here's David's translation.

 

 

this world

is a dewdrop world

yes… but…

 

 

You might recall that this poem was inspired by the death of Issa's beloved young daughter, Sato. It acknowledges the transience of life, but then that last poignant line lingers – loss hurts. 

 

When I read one of David's "fresh" new haiku translations this fall, I recalled that famous haiku and choked up:

 

gathering dewdrops--
each one the life
of a daughter

 

露盛て並べる娘がいちど哉
tsuyu morite naraberu [musume] ga ichigo kana

 

David added this accompanying discussion:

 

In Issa's journal, Hachiban nikki, he initally wrote the kanji for "daughter" (musume), though later in the same journal he revised it to read yome ("wife" or "bride"; Issa zenshû4.211, 4.318). The corrected version achieves the ideal 5-7-5 pattern of sound units, but the fact that Issa wrote "daughter" suggests that he was thinking of his dead child Sato, who passed away two years earlier and who Issa had already associated with dewdrops in a famous "dewdrop world" verse. I've decided to go with the original version. Sato is not alone. Every drop of dew--perfect for just a moment--is someone's beloved daughter, living a short life, then gone. 

 

Poem translations and commentary ©David G. Lanoue.  Rights reserved.

 

 

Now, before you think we are going to be wallowing in tragedy all month, as you might be familiar with the series of losses and challenges Issa faced throughout his life, let me offer reassurance. Issa's dewdrop haiku, like the rest of his body of work, explore the wide gamut of human emotions and sensitivities – from silly to sublime.  David's work gloriously celebrates all of it.

 

We'll learn more about David's books, Issa, and the dewdrop haiku in these next few weeks.  In the meantime, be sure to check out haikuguy.com.  If you are drawn to the down-to-earth, sometimes humorous, compassionate haiku of Issa, let me recommend A Taste of Issa, published in 2019.  This volume is an expanded version of David's 2012 Issa's Best:  A Translator's Selection of Master Haiku.

 

As David says, " Bashō is the most revered of the haiku poets of Old Japan, but Issa is the most loved."

 

Thanks for joining us! Our wonderful Poetry Friday fearless leader, Mary Lee, is kicking off the month with this week's roundup at A Year of Reading.  Enjoy!

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