kobayashi issa: a little haiku blues

Issa is probably my favorite of the four great haiku masters. I love the endearing humanity in his poems and seeing traces of his personality shining through. How could I not appreciate a poet whose pen name translates as “cup of tea,” or, “a single bubble in steeping tea”?

Recently, I was happy to stumble upon some of his “soup” haiku (many about pufferfish soup). While I’ll pass on pufferfish every time, I can certainly get behind this poem:

thin mist —
night after night
vegetable soup

Don’t you think Issa wrote it with me in mind, knowing its irresistible aroma would awaken my senses 213 years later? 🙂

Because May is the fifth month, today I’m serving up five of Issa’s “blue” haiku, paired with Japanese woodblock prints. Enjoy these lovely one-breath poems (all translated from the Japanese by David G. Lanoue). I hope their beauty will add a little joy, light, and the sweet fragrance of revelation to your day.



“Kamisuki/Combing the Hair” by Goyō Hashiguchi (1920)


like blue sky
the summer kimono
I’m wearing




Various Moths and Butterflies by Kubo Shunman (19th century)


with a light heart
in this world —
light blue butterfly




“Bird and Blue Morning Glories” by Imao Keinen (ca. 1930)


how quiet
the light-blue morning glory —
such good manners




“Cherry Blossoms Viewing” by Mizuno Toshikata (1893)


sky-blue parasols
one by one —
blossoms at their peak




“Mayuyama at the Port of Shimabara” by Kawase Hasui (1922)


all the way
to the blue sky’s edge —
low tide



Master Issa, Arigato!  *bows*


The beautiful and talented Brenda Harsham is hosting the Roundup at Friendly Fairy Tales. Join her lovely “Starry, Starry Spring” celebration and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Happy Weekend!

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

56 thoughts on “kobayashi issa: a little haiku blues

  1. My favorite color, blue. Thanks, Jama, for this breath of fresh air! I loved the images and the haiku, none of which I’d encountered before.

    Wondering about the term “one-breath.” Is it a nod to haiku’s brevity, breathing into the spiritual space of that moment, or….?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Doesn’t surprise me that you’re a blue girl — the color of ocean and sky. 🙂

      “One breath” is often used to describe haiku for the reasons you mentioned — brevity as well as spirituality. I find haiku incredibly calming — because you are forced to slow down and contemplate . . . and breathe, of course. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I dug into my old stationery stash for the pencils and notebooks. A friend sent them to me years and years ago after she visited Japan (they make the cutest paper goods!).


  2. Oh, how lovely! I especially enjoyed the morning glories with their good manners. Now I’m wondering about plants that are not so polite. Vines that grow over a fence? Tomatoes that can’t hold themselves up? Branches that snag your clothes? Oh, I know–shrubs that leave seeds stuck to everything that passes by!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a beautiful, peaceful post to wake up to Jama, I love this haiku especially,
    with a light heart
    in this world —
    light blue butterfly”

    though they are all wonderful, and so sensitive, and the art complements the haikus perfectly! I just saw an exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute on”Modern Japanese Portraits,” of painters turned printmakers http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/modern-japanese-portraits. Thanks for this refreshing post!


    1. I’ve often thought that the best poems are the ones that feel like they were written just for you — that resonance and sense of intimacy IMHO are crucial . . .


  4. Ahhh, all the way to the sky’s edge, beauty! I’m happy to sit among the well-mannered morning glories, butterflies, and gently envy that sky-blue kimono. What a happy person this Issa must have been. I also love the wee dolls visiting your stationery! (Don’t you just love those kind of pencils? They make everything you write more gorgeous.) I’m so glad you collect things that make BOTH of us happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From what little I know of Issa’s background, it sounds like he had a hard life — which makes me appreciate his work even more — as he was able to transcend temporal struggles and concerns for his art.


  5. I love the pairings of paintings and poems! I have the Lanoue translation, too. Have you read the children’s book Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs: The Life and Poems of Issa, by Matthew Gollub and Kazuko G. Stone? It tells more about his difficult life. It’s really lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Of course, I am SWOONING over this beautiful post, Jama! The pairing of these poems and the gorgeous art is so thoughtful and creative. And of course, that soup poem was written just for you.

    I agree that Issa’s haiku are all the more powerful because of the challenges and tragedies he faced in his life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely, lovely, Jama! So well said of your selection of Issa’s “blue” haiku: “lovely one-breath poems.” The Japanese woodblock prints you paired them with are exquisite.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. These are fabulous! Thank you for sharing them. Isn’t it amazing when something written centuries ago feels like it’s just for you? Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, I love these Issa poems. My favorite is the last one, and the rich tones of the print are gorgeous. I am going back to Japan this fall, and your post seems part of the dreaming and preparing.

    Liked by 1 person

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s