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Life on the Deckle Edge

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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