Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa

Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa

Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa

Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa

Synopsis

This book sketches the life and poetry of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), a Japanese poet popularly known as one of the Three Pillars of Haiku. While Basho with his mystic asceticism and Buson with his romantic aestheticism immeasurably enriched the haiku tradition, it was Issa who, with his bold individualism and all-embracing humanism, helped to modernize the form to a degree matched by no other poet. Based on the most recent scholarship, the book attempts to identify the sources of his originality in terms of his long checkered life. It traces his growth and maturity by examining his motherless childhood, struggling youth in Edo, wanderings in western Japan, restless existence as a haiku master, return home to Kashiwabara, three brief marriages, and last years as an old poet.

Excerpt

Kobayashi Issa, popularly known as one of the Three Pillars of Haiku, is a major Japanese poet whose contribution to the evolution of the seventeen-syllable verse form matches those of his two great predecessors, Matsuo Bashò and Yosa Buson. the received opinion is that, while Bashò with his mystic asceticism and Buson with his romantic aestheticism immeasurably enriched the haiku tradition, it was Issa who, with his bold individualism and all-embracing humanism, helped to modernize the form to a degree matched by no other poet. Today’s Japanese scholars, however, seem reluctant to grant him the same high literary stature as the other two masters. Ogata Tsutomu, generally considered the foremost living authority on haiku literature, has consistently taken the position that the history of haiku has had only two towering peaks, Bashò and Buson. Konishi Jin’ichi, another distinguished scholar of international renown, has plainly asserted in his insightful The World of Haiku (Haiku no sekai, 1981) that Issa’s poetry, though it stands conspicuously above his contemporaries, in no way equals the achievements of Bashò and Buson. This unfavorable opinion is shared even by two leading Issa scholars of our time. Kobayashi Keiichirò in his standard biography Kobayashi Issa (1961) and Maruyama Kazuhiko in his preface to the collected works of Issa (Issa shū, 1970) concede that Issa’s significance as a poet clearly falls short of his two rivals. Their appraisal sounds especially convincing, coming as it does from authorities who have dedicated most of their scholarly careers to the study of Issa’s poetry.

On the other hand, Issa has been a valuable source of inspiration for a number of practicing poets and novelists in modern Japan. Ogiwara Seisensui, for many years a dynamic leader of the free-style haiku movement, saw Issa as the prototypical autobiographical poet and tried to emulate his frankly confessional style of writing. Kaneko Tòta, one of the most daringly innovative haiku poets since World War ii, is a devoted reader of Issa’s poetry and has brought out several volumes of astute critical commentary on it. Two major novelists, Fujisawa Shùhei and Tanabe Seiko, have written biographical novels entitled Issa (1978) and Issa the Crooked (Hinekure Issa, 1992) . . .

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