Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


An Introduction to Haiku
by "rei fú"









Haiku (hy-koo) is a traditional Japanese verse form, notable for its compression and suggestiveness. In three lines totaling seventeen syllables measuring 5-7-5, a great haiku presents, through imagery drawn from intensely careful observation, a web of associated ideas (renso) requiring an active mind on the part of the listener. The form emerged during the 16th century and was developed by the poet Basho (1644-1694) into a refined medium of Buddhist and Taoist symbolism. "Haiku," Basho was fond of saying, "is the heart of the Man'yoshu," the first imperial anthology, compiled in the eight century. "Haiku," many modern Japanese poets are fond of saying, "began and ended with Basho." Look beyond the hyperbole of either observation, and there is a powerful element of truth. Traditionally and ideally, a haiku presents a pair of contrasting images, one suggestive of time and place, the other a vivid but fleeting observation. Working together, they evoke mood and emotion. The poet does not comment on the connection but leaves the synthesis of the two images for the reader to perceive. A haiku by Basho, considered to have written the most perfect examples of the form, illustrates this duality:

Now the swinging bridge
Is quieted with creepers
Like our tendrilled life

When Basho writes:

How reluctantly
the bee emerges from deep
within the peony

is he merely presenting a pathetical fallacy, attributing human emotion to a bee, or is he entering into the authentic experience of "beeness" as deeply as possible? Perhaps both qualities are present. His detailed observation calls for something other than metaphor; it demands literal accuracy. Is the bee inside his mind or outside? The poem moves in part because of tension raised through the underlying question of duality the Zen resolves in silence. The bee, the peony, the poet, all one idea composed of many.

In another poem, Basho finds

Delight, then sorrow,
aboard the cormorant
fishing boat

without having to describe for his audience the nooses tied around the throats of fishing birds to inhibit swallowing. He is initially delighted by their amazing skill and grace, then horrified that they cannot swallow what they catch, saddened by their captivity and exploitation, and perhaps even more deeply saddened by the fishing folk he never mentions. What remains unstated begs for a profound moral equation, although only the poet's compassion is clearly implied.

The best haiku reflect an undeniable Zen influence. It evolved from the earlier linked-verse form known as the renga and was used extensively by Zen Buddhist monks in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the next 200 years, the verse form achieved its greatest popularity and success. Elements of compassion, silence, and awareness of temporality often combine to reveal a sense of mystery. Just as often, haiku may bring a startling insight into the ordinary, as when Buson writes:

Nobly, the great priest
deposits his daily stool
in bleak winter fields

thereby reminding his audience that nobility has nothing whatever to do with palaces and embroided robes, but that true nobility is obtainable in every human endeavor.

Issa reminds the attentive listener:

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

Haiku may be the most widely recognizable poetic form in the world. At play with the form, children quickly discover their own poetic imaginations; almost anyone can learn to make decently readable haiku in no time at all. Just as anyone can learn to write a quatrain or sonnet. The problem remains: to be great, a poem must rise on its own merit, and too much haiku is merely haiku. Haiku written in American English and attempting to borrow traditional Japanese literacy devices usually ends up smelling of the bric-a-brac shop, all fragmentary dust and mold or cheap glitter coating the ordinary, or worse, the merely cute or contrived. Great haiku cuts both ways, sometimes witty or sarcastic, sometimes making Zen like demands for that most extraordinary consciousness, no-mind or ordinary mind.

Haiku should be approached with a daily sort of reverence, as we might approach an encounter with a great spiritual teacher. It is easy to imitate; it is difficult to attain. The more deeply the reader enters into the authentic experience of the poem, the more the poem reveals. When Kikaku writes:

In the Emperor's bed,
the smell of burnt mosquitoes,
and erotic whispers

we must realize first that the burning of mosquitoes clears the air for erotic play; then we may wonder whether the "smell of burnt mosquitoes" might become a kind of erotic incense for the Emperor, a stimulant for his lust. Thus, lust, love and death are joined in primal experience. Is there a buried needle in this verse? Does Kikaku intend for us to think critically of a decadent emperor? And what does that reveal about ourselves? Revealing the relationship between these mundane activities shakes up our polite perceptions like a Zen slap in the face, a call to awaken to what actually is.

Haiku, sprung free from the opening lines of predominantly humorous "linked verse" (renga) created by multiple authors, began to articulate aesthetic qualities such as a sense of beautiful aloneness, sabishisa, and restrained elegance, furyu.

The precise and concise nature of haiku influenced the early 20th-century Anglo-American poetic movement known as imagism. The writing of haiku is still practiced by thousands of Japanese who annually publish outstanding examples in the many magazines devoted to the art. The great age of haiku spans only a little over a hundred years, and yet its poetry is a river that continues to flow. In our own age and language, wonderful haiku have been written by poets as diverse as Gary Snyder, Richard Wilbur, Lew Welch and Richard Wright, to name but a few. In addition to Basho, important haiku poets include Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masuoka Shiki. Basho is neither the beginning nor the end. Re-encountering these poems is like the leap of Basho's famous frog, a plunge into the sound of water, each brief poem expanding in ever-widening ripples.

Bibliography: Blyth, R. H., A History of Haiku, 2 vols. (1963-64); Higginson, W. J., The Haiku Handbook (1985; repr. 1992); Reichhold, J., A Dictionary of Haiku (1991); Hamill, Sam, The Sound of Water (1995).



Basho (bah-shoh), pseudonym of Matsuo Munefusa (1644-94), Japanese poet, considered the finest writer of Japanese haiku during the formative years of the genre. Born into a samurai family prominent among nobility, Basho rejected that world and became a wanderer, studying Zen, history, and classical Chinese poetry, living in apparently blissful poverty under a modest patronage and from donations by his many students. From 1667 he lived in Edo (now Tokyo), where he began to compose haiku.

The structure of his haiku reflects the simplicity of his meditative life. When he felt the need for solitude, he withdrew to his basho-an, a hut made of plantain leaves (basho)-hence his pseudonym. Basho infused a mystical quality into much of his verse and attempted to express universal themes through simple natural images, from the harvest moon to the fleas in his cottage. Basho brought to haiku "the Way of Elegance" (fuga-no-michi), deepened its Zen influence, and approached poetry itself as a way of life (kado, the way of poetry) in the belief that poetry could be a source of enlightenment. "Achieve enlightenment, then return to this world of ordinary humanity," he advised. And, "Do not follow in the footsteps of the old masters, but seek what they sought." His "way of elegance" did not include the mere trappings associated with elegance; he sought the authentic vision of "the ancients." His attention to the natural world transformed this verse form from a frivolous social pastime into a major genre of Japanese poetry.

In the last ten years of his life Basho made several journeys, drawing from them more images to inspire his contemplative poetry. He also collaborated with local poets on the linked-verse forms known as renga. In addition to being the supreme artist of haiku and renga, Basho wrote haibun, brief prose-and-poetry travelogues such as Oku-no-hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Far North; 1689; Eng. trans., 1974), that are absolutely nonpareil in the literature of the world.

* * *

How very noble!
One who finds no satori
in the lightning-flash

Breakfast enjoyed
in the fine company of
morning glories

Traveling this high
mountain trail, delighted
by violets

A solitary
crow on a bare branch-
autumn evening

This first fallen snow
is barely enough to bend
the jonquil leaves

Whore and monk, we sleep
under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover

At the ancient pond
a frog plunges into
the sound of water

Now I see her face,
the old woman, abandoned,
the moon her only companion

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die

How reluctantly
the bee emerges from the deep
within the peony

The farmer's roadside
hedge provided lunch for
my tired horse

How wild the sea is,
and over Sado Island,
the River of Heaven

Seen in plain daylight
the firefly's nothing but
an insect

Delight, then sorrow,
aboard the cormorant
fishing boat

Exhausted, I sought
a country inn, but found
wisteria in bloom

Among moon gazers
at the ancient temple grounds
not one beautiful face

A cuckoo cries,
and through a thicket of bamboo
the late moon shines

This hot day swept away
into the sea by the
Mogami River

All along this road
not a single soul – only
autumn evening comes

Heard, not seen,
the camellia poured rainwater
when it leaned

The banana tree
blown by winds pours raindrops
into the bucket

With plum blossom scent,
this sudden sun emerges
along a mountain trail

Lead my pony
across this wide moor to where
the cuckoo sings

Wrapping dumplings in
bamboo leaves, with one finger
she tidies her hair

With a warbler for
a soul, it sleeps peacefully,
this mountain willow

This dark autumn
old age settles down on me
like heavy clouds or birds

The morning glories
bloom, securing the gate
in the old fence

From every direction
cherry blossom petals blow
into Lake Biwa

Long conversations
beside blooming irises –
joys of life on the road

On Buddha's birthday
a spotted fawn is born –
just like that

On Buddha's deathday,
wrinkled tough old hands pray –
the prayer beads' sound

Behind Ise Shrine,
unseen, hidden by the fence,
Buddha enters nirvana

This ruined temple
should have its sad tale told only
by a clam digger

Autumn full moon,
the tides slosh and foam
coming in

Crossing half the sky,
on my way to the capital,
big clouds promise snow

Gray hairs being plucked,
and from below my pillow
a cricket singing

Searching storehouse eaves,
rapt in plum blossom smells,
the mosquito hums

Polished and polished
clean, in the holy mirror
snow flowers bloom

Along my journey
through this transitory world,
new year's housecleaning

Through frozen rice fields,
moving slowly on horseback,
my shadow creeps by

The warbler sings
among new shoots of bamboo
of coming old age

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Come out to view
the truth of flowers blooming
in poverty

Autumn approaches
and the heart begins to dream
of four-tatami rooms

Winter showers,
even the monkey searches
for a raincoat

A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory,
piercing like a knife

Chilling autumn rains
curtain Mount Fuji, then make it
more beautiful to see

With dewdrops dripping,
I wish somehow I could wash
this perishing world

Seas slowly darken
and the wild duck's plaintive cry
grows faintly white

Water-drawing rites,
icy sound of monks' getas
echo long and cold

That great blue oak
indifferent to all blossoms
appears more noble

The clouds come and go,
providing a rest for all
the moon viewers

Kannon's* tiled temple
roof floats far away in clouds
of cherry blossoms

*Bodhisattva of Compassion

This bright harvest moon
keeps me walking all night long
around the little pond

Awakened at midnight
by the sound of the water jar
cracking from the ice

Clouds of cherry blossoms!
Is that temple bell in Ueno
or Asakusa?

Even these long days
are not nearly long enough
for the skylarks to sing

I'm a wanderer
so let that be my name –
the first winter rain

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers'
imperial dreams

From all these trees –
in salads, soups, everywhere –
cherry blossoms fall

Culture's beginnings:
rice-planting songs from the heart
of the country

Singing, planting rice,
village songs more lovely
than famous city poems

All the fields hands
enjoy a noontime nap after
the harvest moon

Winter seclusion –
sitting propped against
the same worn post

I would like to use
that scarecrow's tattered clothes
in this midnight frost

Lonely silence,
a single cicada's cry
sinking into stone

But for a woodpecker
tapping at a post, no sound
at all in the house

Ungraciously, under
a great soldier's empty helmet,
a cricket sings

Wet with morning dew
and splotched with mud, the melon
looks especially cool

Even in Kyoto,
how I long for Kyoto
when the cuckoo sings

Your song caresses
the depth of loneliness,
O high mountain bird

Tremble, oh my gravemound,
in time my cries will be
only this autumn wind

On New Year's Day
each thought a loneliness
as winter dusk descends


Sick on my journey,
only my dreams will wander
these desolate moors

* * *

The following letter to a friend, written in 1690, is representative of Basho's lyrical prose or haibun. He describes the hut he lived in for several months on a hill on the southern shore of Lake Biwa east of Kyoto (though not the famous hut made of plantain leaves from which he got his name). The letter concludes with a haiku, a form of which he was an acknowledged master.

Genjuan no ki
(The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling)
by Matsuo Basho

Beyond Ishiyama, with its back to Mount Iwama, is a hill called Kokub-uyama-the name I think derives from a kokubunji or government temple of long ago. If you cross the narrow stream that runs at the foot and climb the slope for three turnings of the road, some two hundred paces each, you come to a shrine of the god Hachiman. The object of worship is a statue of the Buddha Amida. This is the sort of thing that is greatly abhorred by the Yuiitsu school, though I regard it as admirable that, as the Ryobu assert, the Buddhas should dim their light and mingle with the dust in order to benefit the world. Ordinarily, few worshippers visit the shrine and it's very solemn and still. Beside it is an abandoned hut with a rush door. Brambles and bamboo grass overgrow the eaves, the roof leaks, the plaster has fallen from the walls, and foxes and badgers make their den there. It is called the Genjuan or Hut of the Phantom Dwelling. The owner was a monk, an uncle of the warrior Suganuma Kyokusui. It has been eight years since he lived there-nothing remains of him now but his name, Elder of the Phantom Dwelling.

I too gave up city life some ten years ago, and now I'm approaching fifty. I'm like a bagworm that's lost its bag, a snail without its shell. I've tanned my face in the hot sun of Kisakata in Ou, and bruised my heels on the rough beaches of the northern sea, where tall dunes make walking so hard. And now this year here I am drifting by the waves of Lake Biwa. The grebe attaches its floating nest to a single strand of reed, counting on the reed to keep it from washing away in the current. With a similar thought, I mended the thatch on the eaves of the hut, patched up the gaps in the fence, and at the beginning of the fourth month, the first month of summer, moved in for what I thought would be no more than a brief stay. Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever want to leave.

Spring is over, but I can tell it hasn't been gone for long. Azaleas continue in bloom, wild wisteria hangs from the pine trees, and a cuckoo now and then passes by. I even have greetings from the jays, and woodpeckers that peck at things, though I don't really mind-in fact, I rather enjoy them. I feel as though my spirit had raced off to China to view the scenery in Wu or Chu, or as though I were standing beside the lovely Xiao and Xiang rivers or Lake Dongting. The mountain rises behind me to the southwest and the nearest houses are a good distance away. Fragrant southern breezes blow down from the mountain tops, and north winds, dampened by the lake, are cool. I have Mount Hie and the tall peak of Hira, and this side of them the pines of Karasaki veiled in mist, as well as a castle, a bridge, and boats fishing on the lake. I hear the voice of the woodsman making his way to Mount Kasatori, and the songs of the seedling planters in the little rice paddies at the foot of the hill. Fireflies weave through the air in the dusk of evening, clapper rails tap out their notes-there's surely no lack of beautiful scenes. Among them is Mikamiyama, which is shaped rather like Mount Fuji and reminds me of my old house in Musashino, while Mount Tanakami sets me to counting all the poets of ancient times who are associated with it. Other mountains include Bamboo Grass Crest, Thousand Yard Summit, and Skirt Waist. There's Black Ford village, where the foliage is so dense and dark, and the men who tend their fish weirs, looking exactly as they're described in the Man'yoshu. In order to get a better view all around, I've climbed up on the height behind my hut, rigged a platform among the pines, and furnished it with a round straw mat. I call it the Monkey's Perch. I'm not in a class with those Chinese eccentrics Xu Quan, who made himself a nest up in a cherry-apple tree where he could do his drinking, or Old Man Wang, who built his retreat on Secretary Peak. I'm just a mountain dweller, sleepy by nature, who has turned his footsteps to the steep slopes and sits here in the empty hills catching lice and smashing them.

Sometimes, when I'm in an energetic mood, I draw clear water from the valley and cook myself a meal. I have only the drip drip of the spring to relieve my loneliness, but with my one little stove, things are anything but cluttered. The man who lived here before was truly lofty in mind and did not bother with any elaborate construction. Outside of the one room where the Buddha image is kept, there is only a little place designed to store bedding.

An eminent monk of Mount Kora in Tsukushi, the son of a certain Kai of the Kamo Shrine, recently journeyed to Kyoto, and I got someone to ask him if he would write a plaque for me. He readily agreed, dipped his brush, and wrote the three characters Gen-ju-an. He sent me the plaque, and I keep it as a memorial of my grass hut. Mountain home, traveler's rest-call it what you will, it's hardly the kind of place where you need any great store of belongings. A cypress bark hat from Kiso, a sedge rain cape from Koshi-that's all that hang on the post above my pillow. In the daytime, I'm once in a while diverted by people who stop to visit. The old man who takes care of the shrine or the men from the village come and tell me about the wild boar who's been eating the rice plants, the rabbits that are getting at the bean patches, tales of farm matters that are all quite new to me. And when the sun has begun to sink behind the rim of the hills, I sit quietly in the evening waiting for the moon so I may have my shadow for company, or light a lamp and discuss right and wrong with my silhouette.

But when all has been said, I'm not really the kind who is so completely enamored of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds. It's just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary of dealing with people, I've come to dislike society. Again and again I think of the mistakes I've made in my clumsiness over the course of the years. There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching rooms of the patriarchs. Instead, I've worn out my body in journeys that are as aimless as the winds and clouds, and expended my feelings on flowers and birds. But somehow I've been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am, I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Bo Juyi worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Du Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it. As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men. And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? But enough of that-I'm off to bed.

Among these summer trees,
a pasania-
something to count on

Source: From the Country of Eight Islands. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.
Bibliography: Basho, Matsuo, Basho's "The Narrow Road to the Far North" and Selected Haiku, trans. by Nobuyuki Yuasa (1974); Ueda, Makoto, Basho and His Interpreters (1992).




Taniguchi Buson (boo-sahn) (1716-1784), later called Yosa Buson., was a Japanese haiku poet and painter. He ranked second only to Matsuo Bashoa, Japanese master of haiku, among poets of the Edo or Tokugawa period (1600-1868). Buson was born in a suburb of Osaka, Japan, and apparently lost both parents while he was still young. In 1737 he moved to Edo (now Tokyo) to study painting and haiku poetry in the tradition of Basho. After the death of one of his poetry teachers in 1742, he toured northern areas associated with Basho and visited western Japan, finally settling in Kyoto, Japan, in 1751. Particularly active as a painter between 1756 and 1765, Buson gradually returned to haiku, leading a movement to return to the purity of Basho's style and to purge haiku of superficial wit. He married about 1760. In 1771 he painted a famous set of ten screens with his great contemporary Ike no Taiga, demonstrating his status as one of the finest painters of his time. Buson's major contribution to haiku is his complexity and his painter's eye. Buson's technical skill as an artist is reflected in the visual detail of his poetry.

This landscape by Buson, completed in 1771, is in the Museum of East Asian Art in Cologne, Germany.
The poetry group that he formed published its first book in 1772. His haiku poems show a more objective, pictorial style than Basho's humane, wide-ranging work. While Basho taught, "Master technique, then forget it," Buson's technique is less transparent and his poems more consciously composed. He was a poet of enhanced sensibility and evocation. In 1776 his group built a Bashoan (Basho house) for gatherings. Also, his daughter married that year, although this unhappy marriage grieved Buson. Despite his poetic brilliance, Buson was remembered more as a painter until essays by modern Japanese writers Masaoka Shiki and Hagiwara Sakutaro revived his reputation. Besides haiku, he wrote longer verse influenced by both Chinese and Japanese classics.

Bibliography: Blyth, R. H., A History of Haiku, 2 vols. (1971, 1976); Henderson, Harold G., ed., Introduction to Haiku (1958, repr. 1983).

* * *

New Year's first poem
written, now self-satisfied,
O haiku poet!

A lightning flash-
the sound of water drops
falling through bamboo

With a woman friend,
bowing at the Great Palace
a pale , hazy moon

Rain falls on the grass,
filling the ruts left by
the festival cart

Priestly poverty
he carves a wooden buddha
through a long cold night

At the ancient well,
leaping high for mosquitoes,
that fish-dark sound

I go out alone
to visit a man alone
in this autumn dusk

Moon in midsky, high
over the village hovels
and wandering on

Goodbye. I will go
alone down Kiso Road
old as autumn

With no underrobes,
bare butt suddenly exposed
a gust of spring wind

Sweet springtime showers
and no words can express
how sad it all is

With a runny nose
sitting alone at the Go board,
a long cold night

On these southern roads,
on shrine or thatched roof, all the same,
swallows everywhere

An evening cloudburst
sparrows cling desperately
to trembling bushes

At a roadside shrine,
before the stony buddha
a firefly burns

These lazy spring days
continue but how far away
those times called Long Ago!

A long hard journey,
rain beating down the clover
like a wanderer's feet

The late evening crow
of deep autumn longing
suddenly cries out

In a bitter wind
a solitary monk bends
to words cut in stone

Nobly, the great priest
deposits his daily stool
in bleak winter fields

Walking on dishes
the rat's feet make the music
of shivering cold

Utter aloneness
another great pleasure
in autumn twilight

The thwack of an ax
in the heart of a thicket
and woodpecker's tat-tats!

With the noon conch blown
those old rice-planting songs
are suddenly gone

This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head buddha
would make a nice fire

The ferry departs
as the tardy man stands in
the first winter rain

Not cherry blossoms
but peach blossom sweetness
surrounds this little house

By flowering pear
and by the lamp of the moon
she reads her letter

Autumn breezes
spin small fish hung to dry
from beach house eaves

Head pillowed on arm,
such affection for myself!
and this smoky moon

Clinging to the bell
he dozes so peacefully,
this new butterfly

Fallen red blossoms
from plum trees burst into flame
among the horse turds

Light winter rain
like scampering rat's-feet
over my koto

Bamboo hat, straw coat
the very essence of Basho
falling winter rain

A flying squirrel
munches a small bird's bones
in a bare winter field

Along the roadside
discarded duckweed blossoms
in the evening rain

In seasonal rain
along a nameless river
fear too has no name

Pure white plum blossoms
slowly begin to turn
the color of dawn

Plum blossoms in bloom,
in Kitano teahouse,
the master of sumo

Only the shoots
of new green leaves, white water,
and yellow barley

In pale moonlight
the wisteria's scent
comes from far away

Slung over a screen,
a dress of silk and gauze.
The autumn wind.

The camellia tips,
the remains of last night's rain
splashing out

When a heavy cart
comes rumbling along
peonies tremble

That handsaw marks time
with the sound of poverty
late on a winter night

Darting here and there,
the bat is exploring
the moonlit plum


Winter rain on moss
soundlessly recalls those
happy bygone days



Issa (1763-1827), Japanese haiku poet of the Edo period (1600-1868). Best known by his penname, Issa, his child name was Yataro and registered name was Nobuyuki. He was born in Kashiwabara, now part of Shinano-machi (Shinano Town), Nagano Prefecture.

Issa wrote poetry that is especially remarkable considering the life of the poet. His mother died when he was very young, and his father's second wife became a plague upon his soul until he left home at the age of thirteen for Edo (now Tokyo) with his father's help, and lived in poverty for twenty years. His life in Edo is unrecorded until 1787, by which time he was at the Katsushika haiku school. Issa started to write haiku at about the age of 25, having learned it from Genmu and Chiku-a, and had Seibi Natsume as his patron.. Elected to succeed his deceased teacher in 1791, Issa soon resigned and wandered throughout southwest Japan until his father's death in 1801. Although he was named principal heir in his father's will, his stepmother and half brother conspired successfully to keep Issa from the property for thirteen more years. He wrote:

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

After visiting and living at various places, including Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Matsuyama and other Western cities, Issa returned to his home in Kashiwabara at the age of 51 and married a young village woman. However, his four children died in infancy, as did his wife in childbirth. His house burned down. He lived four more years, married again, and finally had an heir, a baby girl - born shortly after his death at the age of 65. Issa's masterpiece, Ora ga haru (1820, The Year of My Life), records the events.His other published works are "The Diary at My Father's Death" (1801) and "My Springtime" (1819).

Neither as at ease as Basho nor as composed as Buson, Issa wrote a more personal poetry of unadorned language, often using the local dialects and words of the daily conversations, moving steadily into a Pure Land Buddhist philosophy that expressed true devotion without getting caught up in the snares of mere religious dogmatism. Sometimes humorous or sarcastic, often of uneven quality, his poems are prized for their remarkable compassionate and poignant insight. Following the death of one of his children, he wrote:

This world of dew
is only a world of dew -
and yet

And his poem is large enough - and sufficiently particular - to say it all. As is so often the case, the most important part is that which is left unstated.

* * *

Thus spring begins: old
stupidities repeated,
new errs invented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like misty moonlight,
watery, bewildering
our temporal way

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

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

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

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

This world of dew
is only a world of dew -
and yet

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

When the wild turnip
burst into full blossom
a skylark sang

The distant mountains
are reflected in the eye
of the dragonfly

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

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

This year on, forever,
it's all gravy for me now -
now spring arrives

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

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

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

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

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

Don't kill that poor fly!
He cowers, wringing
his hands foe mercy

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

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

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

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

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

The young sparrows
return into Jizo's sleeve
for sanctuary

*Jizo is the patron bodhisattva of children and travelers.

My noontime nap
disrupted by voices singing
rice-planting songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new year aarrived
in utter simplicity -
and a deep blue sky

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

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

How comfortable
my summer cotton robe
when drenched with sweat

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

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

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

The vanity of men
they would like to retain

this passing winter moon




Those falling blossoms
all return to the branch when
I watch butterflies

SOIN (1604-1682)

Settling, white dew
does not discriminate,
each drop its home


Chanting Buddha's name
is the deepest pleasure
of one's old age

To learn how to die
watch cherry blossoms, observe

SANPU (1647-1732)

First cherry blossoms,
a cuckoo, the moon and snow:
another year closes

KIKAKU (1661-1707)

O Great Buddha,
your lap must be filling with
these flowers of snow

Her mate devoured
by the cat, the cricket's wife
must be mourning

On Buddha's birthday
the orphaned boy will become
the temple's child

In the Emperor's bed,
the smell of burnt mosquitoes,
and erotic whispers

A single yam leaf
contains the entire life
of a water drop

Over the long road
the flower-bringer follows:
plentiful moonlight

I begin each day
with breakfast greens and tea
and morning glories

Riding the wide leaf
of the banana-tree,
the tree-frog clings

RANSETSU (1654-1707)

A single leaf falls,
then suddenly another,
stolen by the breeze

A large slug slides
slowly, glistening over
abandoned armor

On the old plum tree,
one blossom by one blossom,
the spring thaw is born

All by itself,
that beautiful melon,
entirely self-sufficient

Without a sound,
munching young rice-plant stalks,
a caterpillar dines

KYORAI (1651-1704)

Returning from a funeral
I saw this very moon
high above the moor

RAIZAN (1653-1716)

For rice-planting women
there's nothing left unsoiled
but their song

KAKEI (d. 1716)

At the break of dawn
the well-bucket reels in
a camellia bloom

ONITSURA (1660-1738)

To finally know
the plum, use the whole heart too,
and your own nose

The leaping trout sees
far below, a few white clouds
as they flow

True obedience:
silently the flowers speak
to the inner ear

The cherry blossoms
scatter and we watch and the
more cherry blossoms blow

TAIGI (d. 1771)

"Don't touch!" my host cried,
then broke off and presented
a flowering plum

CHIYO (1701-1775)

Since morning glories
hold my well-bucket hostage,
I beg for water

SOGETSUNI (d. ca. 1804)

After the Dance for the Dead
only pine winds to bring
these insect cries

Divine mystery
in these autumn leaves that fall
on stony buddhas

SOGI (1421-1502)

Life in this world
is brief as time spent sheltered
from winter showers

FUHAKU (1714-1807)

So very still, even
cherry blossoms are not stirred
by the temple bell

TEIGA (1744-1826)

In the poor man's house,
crossing the tatami mats,
a cold autumn wind

KIKUSHA-NI (1752-1826)

Only the moon
and I, on our meeting-bridge,
alone, growing cold

TAYO-JO (1772-1865)

People, more people
scurrying through spring breezes
along the rice-field dikes

SOCHO (1448-1532)

The moon this evening,
and in the whole wide sky
not a trace of cloud

SHOHA (19th century)

When the bush warbler
sings, the old frog belches
his reply

Just when the sermon
has finally dirtied my ears-
the cuckoo

O autumn winds,
for me there are no ancient
gods, no Buddhas for me

The Skylark School
argues with the Frog School,
each with its song

The full moon ringed
by these innumerable stars,
and the sky deep green

In the winter river,
discarded, an old dog's

The thunderstorm breaks up,
one tree lit by setting sun,
a cicada cry