Emotions in Haiku and Kigo


Emotions in Kigo and Haiku

for kigo, see details below

. Emotions and Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 .

. Emotions and Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 .

. Emotions and Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 .


Strong emotions like melancholy or sadness (kanashisa 悲しさ) and others are usually not used directly in traditional Japanese haiku, which tend to simply describe the scene but not interpret it in human terms.
A suitable KIGO is used to bring out the underlying mood / emotion of the haiku.

Japanese haiku are a very emotional kind of poetry,
the emotional part is expressed through the skilfull use of kigo.
Each kigo has an emotional mood, which gives the author the opportunity to convey his emotion without saying "I am sad", "I am happy" openly.

The emotional background is explained in the saijiki and needs to be learned, just as we learn the vocabulary of a new language to be able to speak it properly.

early cherry blossoms
cherry blossoms
falling cherry blossoms

Three different emotions.

Children are usually taught to imply the emotion within an appropriate KIGO, as I have experienced it in our local grammar school.
Read more HERE:
. Teaching Japanese Children  

Shasei .. 写生 sketching from nature

EGO and how not to anihilate it in haiku

There are however exceptions from these guidelines (yakusokugoto), as we will explore below. These emotional words are usually used in context with a season word.

The composing of a Japaese haiku depends first and foremost on the situation experienced by the poet and his choice of vocabulary or style which suits that situation.

Gabi Greve


A sense of melancholy ... wabi 侘び  and sabi 寂び ...

さびしさ 寂しさ

淋しい / 淋しさ 

Wabi, sabi, Japanese Aesthetics

sabishii .. lonely, sad ... the dictionary

悲しい kanashii .. sad, miserable, sorrowfull ... the dictionary

SABISHISA and Japanese Poetry / some LINKS


How does one produce work on negative subject matter such as loss, anger, melancholy. Its not that I am a pessimist, its just I want to know if haiku cover the full the range of existence.

Absolutely -- all flavors of experience have been approached through haiku.
However, as with any emotional content, dark emotions need to be evoked indirectly, by choice of words and images.
very strong emotions tend to be hard to express well in these subtle ways, and probably do not make good subjects for haiku. but there are plenty of examples of sorrow, loneliness, regret, and nostalgia being conveyed beautifully by way of the observations being made of "external" things.

© acm / Shiki Archives


The beauty of Japanese haiku poetry, inspired by Zen Buddhism, lies in the brevity of expression which conveys a world of meaning and emotions.

Dr Satya Bhushan Verma


longing for a person, longing for one's mother
haha koishi

いかなごに まづ箸おろし 母恋し   

to eat sand lance
first I put my chopsticks down -
I long for mother

Takahama Kyoshi 高浜虚子 and ikanago fish haiku
Tr. Gabi Greve


feeling lonely, sabishiisa, sabishii 寂しい 

"Loneliness is the second state of mind necessary for the creation and appreciation of haiku.
Loneliness is also a state of interpenetration with all other things."

Robert Blyth

What quiet loneliness fills the autumn air!
As I lean on my staff, the wind turns cold
A solitary village lies shrouded in mist
By a country bridge, a figure passes
bound for home.

An old crow comes to roost in the ancient forest
Lines of wild geese slant toward the horizon
Only a monk in black robes remains
Standing motionless before the river at twilight.

Tr. Abe / Haskel

. Ryookan 良寛 Ryokan (1758-1831) .


sabishisa no soko nukete furu mizore kana

this sleet
right through the bottom
of loneliness . . .


this sleet
falls right through the bottom
of my solitude . ..

Tr. Gabi Greve

This haiku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

Joso (Joosoo) lived as a Zen monk in a remote small hut and might have felt this endlessly falling sleet as falling right though the bottom of heaven on his reed roof and onto his cold body. He felt the powerlessness, weakness and loneliness of his own body and personal situation even stronger. "through the bottom" is an expression of his humor on this bleek cold day, since there is nothing he can do but yield to his miserable situation and write poetry about it.
He died at the age of 43.

Read the full discussion of this translation HERE
Naito Joso 内藤丈草


uki ware o sabishigarase yo kankoodori

this sorrowful me
you make even more lonely -
you cuckoo

MORE hokku about emotions by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


sabishisa wa tsumiki asobi ni tsumoru yuki

this feeling of loneliness -
he plays with his building blocks
as the snow heaps up

Kubota Mantaro 久保田万太郎
He wrote this for his son, who was jsut 3 years old and always playing alone.


izure sabishi fuusen uri to yadokari uri

they are both lonely -
the vendor of baloons
the vendor of hermit crabs

Yamao Tamao 山尾玉藻

Vendor of hermit cracs
kigo for all spring


aware あわれ 哀れ pitiful, miserable touching, to be moved, compassion, mercy, piteous

hana mina karete aware o kobosu kusa no tane

the flowers have withered -
the seeds are spilling
their mercy

After the first frost has come, the flowers are withered and the seeds have fallen to the ground.. Compared to the lush green of summer, this view gives rise to "aware".

The point of this haiku is the expression "aware o kobosu".

flowers all withered,
spilling their sadness:
seeds for grass

source : translations


lighthearted, light, karoshi, karui, karumi 軽い 

konoha chiru sakura wa karushi hinokigasa

falling leaves
of the cherry tree so light
on my pilgrim's hat

Matsuo Basho

. Karumi and Haiku by Basho

hat made from pine bark, hinokigasa ひのき笠


a sparkling sight, dazzeling sight,
kirabiyaka きらびやか

shishimai no hashi ni yuki au kirabiyaka

the lion dance
performed at the bridge
how dazzling a sight

Kume Santei, 久米三汀
© lib.virginia.edu


feeling ashamed, asamashii 浅ましい

Some Haiku by Kobayashi Issa

asamashi ya sumi no shimi komu tenohira ni

how shameful--
with my charcoal-stained

asamashi no shibin toya naku mura chidori

"Shameful, that piss-pot!"
the flock of plovers

asamashi ya tsue ga nanbon oi no matsu

what a shame!
how many canes prop you up
old pine?

I first translated asamashi as "pitiful," but for a different haiku in which this word appears, Shinji Ogawa suggests, "shameful," as a better translation. In snow country like Issa's home province of Shinano, certain kinds of trees must be protected by columns placed under every branch to prevent the branches from being broken by the weight of the snow. Shinji explains that Issa is playfully teasing the old pine: "Shame! Shame! How many canes are you using, old pine?"

Tr. David Lanoue
More haiku with ASAMASHI


having a bad or unpleasant feeling,
mutsukashi むつかし 【難しい】

muzukashii むずかしい

mutsukashi ya hatsu yuki miyuru Shinano yama

watching first snowfall
in a rotten mood...
Shinano Mountain

Kobayashi Issa
Tr. David Lanoue


feeling nostalgia なつかしい【懐かしい】 natsukashi

to be fond of something, to yearn for something

kumite shiru nurumi ni mukashi natsukashi ya

drawing water
it's tepid...
nostalgia for olden times

Kobayashi Issa, 1795
Tr. David Lanoue

This haiku, written during Issa's journey to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island, was inspired by a stone monument containing a haiku by Basho that includes the lines,
"thrusting in my hands I noticed/ the urn water"
(te o irete shiru/ kame no mizu).
Natsukashi, has no exact English equivalent. It usually connotes the feeling of something dear or fondly remembered--a sort of sweet nostalgia. Shinji Ogawa offers this translation of Issa's haiku:
Drawing water, I noticed the tepidness yearning for the olden days . .
Shinji notes that Issa's use of the word shiru (notice) is a conscious reflection of Basho's statement.


- - - - - nikui にくい ― 憎い to hate  - - - - -

ochiba shite nikui karasu wa nakari keri

falling leaves
and nothing but
likeable crows

Tr. Chris Drake

Japanese double negatives are often best translated as strong positives in English. For example, what can be literally translated as "don't dislike" actually means "to love, like a lot, have special feelings for" in English. Classical Japanese was fond of understatement, and experienced readers knew from the context when to read double negatives as strong positives. If double negatives are translated literally into English, readers have fewer cues, so in many cases, such as the present hokku, written by a poet who himself does not hate crows at any time, a strongly positive translation seems justified. The implication in the hokku seems to be that even those who usually hate crows must be satisfied with the birds, at least for the time being. And Issa's own opinion seems to be that the crows are very likeable indeed.

. Full comment by Chris Drake .


feeling overwhelmed, overpowered
すさまじい【凄まじい】 susamajii

something terrible or dreadful

susamaji ya sugina bakari no oka hitotsu
Masaoka Shiki


urayamashi うらやまし 羨まし to envy something

. urayamashi ukiyo no kita no yama-zakura .
Matsuo Basho


emotions used in KIGO

kigo for all spring

CLICK for more enjoyabel spring

shunkyoo 春興 (しゅんきょう) joy of spring
..... shunki 春嬉(しゅんき)
haru no kyoo 春の興(はるのきょう)
haru tanoshi 春愉し(はるたのし)spring is enjoyable, I enjoy spring
shunyuu 春遊(しゅんゆう)enjoying spring, I enjoy spring
(by going out in the fresh green nature)

In the Edo period, this word was also used for the first haiku meeting and print-out of their latest haiku to had to friends.


shun-i 春意 (しゅんい) feeling of spring
harugokoro 春心(はるごころ)the heart feels spring
lit. "spring heart"
..... shunyuu 春融(しゅんゆう),shunjoo 春情(しゅんじょう)
haru no joo 春の情(はるのじょう)

shunshuu 春愁 (しゅんしゅう ) spring melancholy
haru urei 春愁(はるうれい)
haru ureu 春愁う(はるうれう)I feel melancholic in spring
shunkon 春恨(しゅんこん)
shun-en 春怨(しゅんえん)
haru no urami 春の恨み(はるのうらみ)
(feeling of young lonely women)

haru kanashi 春かなし(はるかなし)"sad spring"
I feel sad in spring

shunshi 春思(しゅんし)"spring thoughts"
(about the other sex)

shunshuu purankuton mo ningen mo

spring melancholy -
even for plankton
even for humans

Sato Naruyuki 佐藤成之 (Satoo Naruyuki / Shigeyuki)


kigo for late autumn

"loneliness in autumn" autumn melancholy,
aki sabu 秋寂ぶ (あきさぶ)
I feel lonely/melancholic in autumn

SABU, means also "getting rusty", autumn is rusting. It may also hint to the color of the autumn leaves.
aki sabishi 秋さびし(あきさびし) feeling lonely in autumn
I feel lonely in autumn

Autumn Melancholy Japan

Autumn Melancholy Europe


. Feeling HOT in SUMMER  

. Feeling COOL in SUMMER  

. Feeling cold in WINTER  

Things found on the way


dai no ji ni nete suzushisa yo sabishisa yo

lying spread-eagle

by Issa, 1813
Tr. David Lanoue

© Haiga and Renku by Nakamura Sakuo

lying spread-eagle
aa, this coolness !
aa, this loneliness!

Tr. Gabi Greve

comment and translation by
- - Chris Drake - translating haiku forum - -


sabishisa ya shio no hiru hi mo sumida-gawa

even on a low tide day
Sumida River

sabishisa o tsuru ni oyobosu kagashi kana

making the stork
feel lonely...
the scarecrow

sabishisa wa tokushin shite mo mado no shimo

also consenting
to my loneliness...
frost on the window

Tr. David Lanoue
Issa and more haiku about loneliness !


sabishisa ya Suma ni kachitaru hama no aki

Lonelier even than Suma -
Standing on this beach
The end of autumn

Basho - The Narrow Road to the North
Tr. John Tran & Tamiko Nakagawa

Suma, Iro no Hama and Basho


さびしさや 岩にしみ込 蝉のこゑ
sabishisa ya iwa ni shimikomu semi no koe

oh this loneliness !
only the shrill of cicadas

seeps into rocks
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Matsuo Basho

MORE hokku about emotions by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


kumo korosu ato no sabishiki yosamu kana

this loneliness
after killing a spider -
cold at night

Masaoka Shiki



temari uta kanashiki koto o utsukushiku

ball bouncing song -
such a sad thing
said so beautifully

Takahama Kyoshi

Temari uta is a song that Japanese children sing to count while bouncing or catching a small ball ten times, each time saying the name of a deity or famous temple or shrine.
After counting to ten, the next verse goes a bit like this:

I believe very much in all these Buddhas and Gods,
and yet, my dear child is very ill and wont heal,
my husband has to go to war and might not come back !
I cry and cough blood ... hototogisu!

Here is the Japanese version of this song:


これほど信(神)願 かけたのに
うちふりながらも ねえあなた
泣いて血を吐く ほととぎす hototogisu

Regional Versions of this Song

WKD: Priest Ryokan and the Temari balls
More links about the wonderful TEMARI balls.

Temari hand balls and temari songs 手毬唄
kigo for the New Year !


hatsu fuji no kanashiki made ni tooki kana

first Mt. Fuji
until I have become sad
at such a distance

Yamaguchi Seison 山口青邨


remembering the Niigata earthquake

nochitsuki no kanashiki hodo no shirosa kana

October full moon
moonshine is too white
for sadness

etsuko yanagibori


how beautiful うつくしや utsukushi ya

soo ni naru ko no utsukushi ya keshi no hana

how beautiful
this boy who becomes a priest -
poppy flowers

Kobayashi Issa

. Poppy flowers and kigo


karigane ya nokoru mono mina utsukushiki

wild geese ——
all that remains

ISHIDA Hakyo (1913 - 1969)

This haiku needs an introduction about the poet's parting on September 23, 1943 when he got his draft card notice. He then thought of his family and friends who remained behind.
In the evening sky, a flock of wild geese were flying and honking and then disappeared. It seemed to echo Hakyos sad feeling and his determination to deem, everything that remains as beautiful. This shows his affection toward everything that remained: the value of family and friends - and that love becomes more beautiful when it ends. His sad feeling is embodied in the image of the departing wild geese.
source : HIA - TAKAHA Shugyo
Translation by SATO Kazuo & Patricia DONEGAN

. Ishida Hakyo (Ishida Hakyoo)石田波郷 .

a flock of wild geese -
the things I leave behind
are all so beautiful

Tr. Gabi Greve


enten no sora utsukushi ya Kooyasan

the blazing sky
is so beautiful -
Mount Koya Monastery

Takahama Kyoshi 虚子

enten - blazing sky and haiku


How interesting ! omoshiro ya
omoshiroi, おもしろい (面白い) can have many nuances in Japanese, according to the situation.
interesting, amusing, entertaining, funny, enjoyable, strange, weird, exciting ...


. MORE haiku with emotions .

Related words

***** Joy, pleasure (ureshisa, tanoshisa)
happiness, bliss (shiawase)

***** Boredom, to be bored (taikutsu)

***** Judgement and Duality, rich and poor yin and yang

***** Wabi, sabi, Japanese Aesthetics

***** Haiku Theory Archives



Gabi Greve said...

That tree, just as
lonesome as I am --
lost all it's leaves

TIKKIS from Finland
and more lonesome leaves haiku


Anonymous said...

Beautiful ... utsukushiki ...

stark contrast
to the pretty grasses...
cormorant boat

utsukushiki kusa no hazure no u-bune kana


by Issa, 1810

Evidently, wildflowers are blooming in the grass. Japanese fishermen use cormorants. Tied to a tether, these sea birds dive for fish that they are forced to disgorge.

Tr. David Lanoue

Cormorant Fishing and Haiku

Anonymous said...

With thoughts of William Blake of "I wandered lonely as a cloud" fame...

winter day
lonely together
a cloud and I

And then some ...

winter afternoon ...
in loneliness a frog
waits for a fly

lone tulip ...
for lunch a slice of bread
but no cheese

Ella Wagemakers

Anonymous said...

world of pain--
and the cherry blossoms
add to it!

ku no shaba ya sakura ga sakeba saita tote


by Issa, 1819

Shinji Ogawa has helped to untangle the syntax of Issa's original. Ku no shaba ya: "painful (or afflicting) world..."; sakura ga sakeba: "if cherry blossoms bloom"; saita tote: "because of the blooming."
He paraphrases: "painful world.../ if cherry blossoms bloom/ because of the blooming (the blooming adds another pain)."

He comments, "We Japanese smile at Issa's twist to associate the blooming of cherry blossoms with pain."
Compare this to another of Issa's haiku of 1819:

ku no shaba ya hana ga hirakeba hiraku tote
world of pain-- and blossoms blooming add to it!

Tr. David Lanoue

Anonymous said...

for you fleas
the night must be long...
and lonely?

nomi domo ga sazo yonaga daro sabishi karo


by Issa, 1813

Tr. David Lanoue

Anonymous said...

in rural bamboo too
Heaven's River

yukashisa yo inaka no take mo ama no kawa


by Issa

"Heaven's River" refers to the Milky Way. Issa is happy to find it even in this backward province far from the capital.

Tr. David Lanoue

Anonymous said...

even the meadow grasses
hit their peak young

aisoo ya nobe no kusa sae waka-zakari


by Issa, 1814

Aisoo or aiso denotes amiability, affability. These English equivalents sound too cold for this context; I hope that "lovely" expresses Issa's warm and tender feeling toward the young grasses.

Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve (Kaga no Chiyo) said...

ochiayu ya hi ni hi ni mizu no osoroshiki

descending sweetfish -
day by day the water
becomes more dreadful

Kaga no Chiyo-Ni 加賀千代(尼)/

Tr. Gabi Greve

Anonymous said...

Beautiful ... utsukushiku ...

the pine saplings
looking pretty...
a scarecrow

matsu nae no utsukushiku naru kagashi kana

by Issa, 1806
Tr. David Lanoue

anonymous said...


- Adam Donaldson Powell, 2009.

Some old-fashioned "experts" still insist that human emotions in haiku are only to be expressed in figurative ways through depictions of nature, while others are venturing into somewhat more obvious analogies. I - myself - am a bit wary of the pitfalls of falling prey to reading too much into the subtleties of haiku, or to limit the usage of such expressions of subtlety to Japanese culture and tradition.

There are many opinions circulating regarding the mechanics and functions of haiku-writing, as well as some individuals who would seem to maintain that the only good haiku-writers are those who follow strict Japanese tradition. As I have written elsewhere, contemporary haiku - and perhaps especially international haiku and haiku adaptations into other languages - must address many cultural and linguistic differences that may challenge traditional Japanese rules regarding classical haiku, including but not limited to meter, linguistic and culturally-associated rhythms and sounds of words employed, expansion of time beyond "the moment" etc.

I was impressed to read the following in Natsuishi's essay entitled "Composing Haiku in a Foreign Country" (A Future Waterfall, 2004, Red Moon Press, ISBN 1-893959-46-5, USA):

"[Nevertheless,] not many Japanese Haiku poets have been open to foreign experiences ... The main reason is their idée fixe about nature ... This situation has effectively prevented Japanese haiku poets from looking at a foreign land from a non-Japanese perspective. Foreign landscapes remain largely alien and incomprehensible.

"A haiku poet in a foreign country has many occasions for inspiration. Many things provoke him to look at them from new and different angles -- provide him with a new insight and a different sensibility. This is the way it should be. After all, one principal purpose of haiku is to discover something new in everything and to reveal it to the world ...

"More than three hundred years after Bashô, I am trying to create in my haiku diverse, astonishing traditions and phenomena of the whole world."

It occurs to me that the cultural associative expertise required in international haiku and haiku in translation is perhaps especially significant in regards to communication of emotion - both viscerally and figuratively. While classical Japanese haiku expresses emotions more figuratively than directly, modern forms of haiku and international / non-Japanese haiku forms would appear to be experimenting with and stretching the "old and the traditional" into more "liberal" expressions of emotion and usages of kigo.

Ban'ya Natsuishi is classically-schooled and does employ many traditional Japanese forms in his haiku-writing, but he is also constantly exploring the haiku in literary evolution. His work with World Haiku presents special challenges and many new possibilities in regards to the internationalization of contemporary haiku-writing.

Some outstanding examples of innovative contemporary haiku by Natsuishi follow:

from "A Future Waterfall", 2004, Red Moon Press, ISBN 1-893959-46-5, USA:


- Adam Donaldson Powell, 2009.

anonymous said...


part 2

It is my premise that expression of emotions in art is not merely a question of perspective of nature, but concerns color, form, verb form, sound, meter and time as well.

In the above examples Natsuishi plays with the "rules" most creatively, experimenting with time ("a future waterfall"), direct and less direct references to emotions, sometimes more liberal approaches to the usage of kigo, and purposeful liberation from 5-7-5 meter in favor of culturally-effective adaptations in English, Spanish and French (I cannot comment on other languages which I do not understand). Successful adaptation of haiku from Japanese (or another language) to other languages is not merely a question of cultural and linguisitic translation but perhaps also entails a oneness in expression in the original language that at times surpasses literary and cultural norms in the mother tongue in order to achieve a more universal expression.

The ability to successfully make creative decisions depends on the artist's understanding of tradition (where artistic expression norms have hailed from) as well as the understanding of how to employ intentional techniques to achieve desired new forms of expression. Decisions regarding usage of meter, form, sound, suggestion, time, length etc. should be conscious and intentional, and yet give the appearance of evenness and technical ease and dexterity. A technically or emotionally difficult passage in a work of music, literature or art should appear as effortless in execution as a technically or emotionally easy one. Here Ban'ya Natsuishi unabashedly shows his mastery of artistic execution and suggestiveness and his intelligence in decisionmaking and planning -- resulting in a natural feeling recognizable by readers from various cultures, traditions and in many languages.

Despite his intellectual and technical expertise, Natsuishi has loftier goals than merely to find new ways of expressing emotions. He says himself: "My concern is not expressing emotion in a new way, but something deeper than emotion is my target."

- Adam Donaldson Powell, 2009.

anonymous said...

Haiku by Matsuo Basho, Tr. by David Landis Barnhill

gu anzuru ni meido mo kaku ya aki no kure

in my humble view
the netherworld must be like this–
autumn evening


shiragiku yo shiragiku yo haji nagakami yo nagamkami yo

white chrysanthemum, white chyransthemum
all that shame with your
long hair, long hair


monohoshi ya fukuro no uchi no tsuki to hana

so desirable–
inside his satchel
moon and blossoms


omoshiroote yagate kanashiki ubune kana

so fascinating,
but then so sad:
cormorant fishing boat

Is haiku poetry?
THF 4th position


Gabi Greve, Cormorants said...

so exciting
and, after a while, so sad -
cormorant fishing

Tr. Makoto Ueda


Anonymous said...

utomashiki kata kabe kakusu yanagi kana

it hides one wall...

Kobayashi Issa

Instead of appreciating the willow like a typical haiku poet, Issa complains about it. Is he standing outside looking at the house, annoyed at the way the tree obstructs his view of it, or is he inside the house, looking at a blocked window?
Either way, he finds the tree utomashiki: disagreeable; Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 216. Note the fun that he has with k-alliteration in this haiku: kata kabe kakusu.
Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve said...

ashamed 恥ずかしい hazukashii

hazukashi ya kutte nete kiku kan nebutsu

eating then going to bed
I hear the winter prayers

Issa (Tr. David Lanoue)

hazukashi ya misoka ga kite mo kusa no choo

shame, shame!
on the month's last day
a meadow butterfly
Comments by Lanoue:

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

dai no ji ni nete suzushisa yo sabishisa yo

sleeping with arms
and legs spread -- so cool
so alone

Read the comment by Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

okashisa -可笑しい  how funny

Kobayashi Issa

niwatori no mochi funzukete okashisa yo

chickens trampling
the rice cakes...
a comedy

Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

natsukashi ya heta uguisu no too naki wa

a sound I've missed --
far off a bush warbler
struggles to sing

This hokku is from the beginning of the fourth month (May) in 1819, when Issa was living in his hometown with his wife and baby girl. According to Year of My Life, on 4/16, soon after this hokku was written, Issa set out on a journey to retrace the travels of Saigyo and Basho in the northern regions in order to improve his haikai-writing ability, but he soon turned around and returned to his hometown. There is no mention of this terminated journey in Issa's diary, so it may be a fictional allegory written to suggest that in his case his narrow road to the north was his narrow road to his own hometown. At this time Issa was experimenting energetically and creatively as a writer, and this hokku may be a further expression of the larger ferment that was going on in his mind.

Issa's hometown is in a rather high, cold area, and bush warblers return rather late, so the songs of some of the males (known to ornithologists as plastic songs) are still rather ragged. The most striking bush warbler song is sung by males in their strong warbler voices, often as they fly around the edges of their territories, turning away other males and trying to invite a female to come inside. After the mating season finishes, however, the males stop singing their song until the next mating season, and many of them have to practice hard at the beginning of each new mating season to regain their ability to sing their fairly complex song. At the same time, many young male warblers are trying hard to copy the songs of their fathers and of other adult males and learn the song. The warbler in the hokku could be either mature or young, but Issa can hear the bird from a distance, so perhaps it is a mature male struggling to regain his ability to sing. Issa says the warbler is singing poorly or badly. By this he probably means the warbler is still singing in fragments and is not yet able to sing the whole song fluently. For example, a full verse of the bush warbler song goes, according to Japanese onomatopoetic notation, something like pi pi pi kekyo kekyo hoo hokekyo hoo hokekyo, together with some slides and flourishes, so the warbler Issa hears might be singing something like hoo hoo kek or hoo hoo kekkyo kekkyo or another fragmented variation. Probably the modulation and the length of the individual sounds are still abnormal as well.

Issa doesn't say why he loves to hear this song practiced again after a long silence of many months, but surely the sound means more than just the return of warmth to the village. One possibility would be that, since the crescendo of the main call of the warbler sounds similar in meaning to "Lo, Lotus Sutra!" in Japanese, Issa might be impressed and encouraged by the thought that nature is also striving to improve and to sing the praises of the Lotus Sutra. Another possibility would be that he loves the passionate way the warblers keep on repeating various individual song elements and listening to other warblers do the same until they have finally have mastered the whole mellifluous song together, though with individual variations. The song-learning (and relearning) process might have suggested, at least in a way, a great avian renku fest that paralleled what Issa and other haikai poets in his network were doing. Or what Issa was doing as he began vaguely thinking about putting fragments of a whole year together in a haibun and hokku montage. In any case, it seems likely that the warbler Issa hears in this hokku reminds him of how much he has grown since he first heard warblers struggle to learn their songs as a young boy in his hometown and also reminds him of how much better he needs to become as a writer and "singer" in the future.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve said...

beraboo べら坊 berabo, develish, very strong

Kobayashi Issa

berabô ni hi no nagaku naru hasu no hana

the day grows
devilishly long...
lotus blossoms

Tr. David Lanoue