I .. the first person


I .. the first person

***** Location: Japan, worldwide
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


Haiku is the poetry of the first person.
Verbs used in Japanese Haiku

This sentence is often heared from Japanese haiku teachers. The Japanese language is structured in a way that very often the verb somehow implies the person who is doing the activity and the explicit word for I or YOU is not mentioned directly. In translating such a haiku, the I is often not mentioned, which might give the impression of an undefined actor.

But some haiku use this pronoun explicitly.
And they are not only the death haiku of famous poets, but many others too.

I will try and collect some here as I find them.

Gabi Greve

There are many different words to be used when talking about oneself in Japanese, differing on the social status of the other person and whether a man, woman or child is talking. But this is a different problem of the Japanese language.

ware 吾 我
watakushi 私
wagami, waga mi, waga-mi 我が身
"my body"

ore, ora 俺、おら mostly used by men

External Japanese LINK
Haiku with the first person
© 私
一身憂き身俺 己●俺様●愚生●吾人●此方人等(こちとら)●此方(こちら)●自家自身自分●小職●小生拙者●手前●当人不肖本人●余輩●老生●吾輩我が身●儂●我 吾吾等われわれ

mi o ai su(ru) 身を愛す "I love my body"

temakura ni mi o aisu nari oborozuki


onmi o aisu おん身を愛す I love you
(Ich liebe dich)

The consept of using the word "I" when necessary in languages other than Japanese should not be mixed up with the consept of using judgemental images, which feel like leading the reader to a conclusion, like authorial intrusions on the free image.
Authorial intrusion is a literary device where the author inserts his own thoughts and opinions into the poetry, and should be avoided in haiku.


by Jack Galmitz, THF

The tradition of eliminating the “I” from haiku
coincided with the idea (fostered by Blyth, a student of D.T. Suzuki) that haiku was an offshoot of Zen Buddhism and that haiku aimed at enlightenment. While it is true that there were haiku written that purposely were meant as such expressions, haiku generally were not viewed as a medium of such expression. Basho was not a Buddhist, had minimal understanding of the religion, and was a poet first and foremost.

This tradition of relinquishing a sense of “I” carried on into American haiku (perhaps because early proponents, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder, et al, were erstwhile students of Buddhism), and understood it that way as advanced their own interests and their esteem for Blyth/Suzuki.

I believe their interest and purpose was to find a way of life that advocated peace (amongst other reasons) in a cold war world, in a world dominated by the “millions” manipulated by and coming to resemble the “machinery” of the 20th century.

Ironically, though, it was just these poets (and there were notable others), that introduced the lyrical and interior “I” back into poetry after the formalism of the preceding period. When we think of the 1950s in poetry, we think of this great energy evoked by the “I,” by its resuscitation from the organizational man of the time. James Hackett, remember, was a Buddhist monk prior to becoming a haiku poet.

The ideal of no-self of Buddhism also found its way into American haiku as a rule that the form be an enactment of enlightenment: lower-case lines of “objective” things existing without reference to anything other than themselves; a belief that the “I” is an arrogance and corrupter of the pure-field of things-in-themselves, to be presented and cherished by what? (as no-self was writing wasn’t it).

Of course, in order for something to exist for us, we must make room for it and to do so we must yield our opinions, preferences,etc., otherwise everything is just understood as we understand it. Many good and great poems were made by attempts to yield to the “idea” of things as existing independently; it gave value to the “natural” world, in particular, something our century had not and still does not do.

However, another, and equally valid way of valuing the world is by examing it, looking at it, and by expressing what it is and does to our internal life (another field that is side-swept and under-priveleged and down-trodden by our production-era ethos).

That is why in Japan and here in the USA, poets created a form that moved from the “objective” to “subjective” world; why they championed the internal response to the world (not insisting on their ego so much as the inner landscape that the outer landscape evokes for all of us).
Just think of Ozaki Housai, Fura Maeda, Kyoshi Takahama, Arou Usuda, Fusei Tomiyasu, etc.

That things and we are preceded and superceded is true and is a legitimate end to express in haiku. But, that we exist, that the world exists in us and through us, is equally important and an equal end to express by haiku.

The idea that Buddhism or haiku as an ancillary art require the denial of the small self, feelings, perceptions, cognitions, etc. is simply not true. To think that there is an essential self behind these phenomenon is true.
source : THF, Periplum 9

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

not much
and yet
my autumn

Read a review by Susumu Takiguchi, WHR December 2011

. Editor’s Choice : Gabi Greve .


Some haiku by Kobayashi Issa

ware sukite ware suru tabi no samusa kana

though I'm loving
these travels of mine...
it's cold!

dete mireba ware no mi narazu hatsu tabine

off on a journey
I'm not alone...
first inn of the year

yuugure ya kagashi to ware to tada futari

evening falls--
me and a scarecrow
just us two

yuku haru ya ware o mitaosu furugigai

spring departs--
the old clothes buyer
ignores me

ware shinaba haka mori to nare kirigirisu

when I die
guard my grave

ikana hi mo uguisu hitori ware hitori kana

whatever the day brings
the nightingale's alone
I'm alone

More haiku with WARE
Tr. David Lanoue


mi hitotsu 身一つ - - just for me, all by myself
This also implies a feeling of loneliness and solitude.

mi hitotsu ni ookina tsuki yo ume ga ka yo

just for me...
the great moon!
the plum blossom scent!

mi hitotsu ni arashi kogarashi arare kana

just for me
a storm, winter wind
and hail

machi-machishi sakura to naredo hitori kana

cherry blossoms
I waited and waited for...
I'm alone

Robin D. Gill helped me to grasp Issa's meaning. He paraphrases:
"I've waited and waited for these cherries to bloom but, hell,
here I am with none of my poet buddies around, all alone, out in the boondocks! Damn!"

Tr. David Lanoue


medetasa mo chuu gurai nari ora ga haru

my reason to celebrate
is about medium-size -
my new spring

Ora ga Haru
by Issa, published in 1852

. Reference


Matsuo Basho

chiru yanagi aruji mo ware mo kane o kiku

willow leaves scattering -
the master and I
listen to the temple bell

Tr. Gabi Greve

waga yado no sabishisa omoe kiri hitoha

I think of the loneliness
of my own lodging -
one leaf of the paulownia

Tr. Gabi Greve

MORE - hokku about his life and personal situation :
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


The use of HITORI 一人 "only me" as the first person, relating to a strong human being, has been used in Japanese poetry and in haiku.

On contrast
here is one modern example of HITORI used by the young man who shot some people in Akihabara in 2008, he said (and this is not in haiku form)

I am alone/lonely on the internet (intaanetto de mo hitori)
I am alone/lonely in my life

expressing a very weak human being that can not bear to be alone.


Kyoshi hitori ginga to tomo ni nishi e yuku

Kyoshi all alone
goes with the Milky Way
to the West


me, Kyoshi
I go with the Milky Way
toward the West

The West, implies the Buddhist Paradise of the West.
Kyoshi wrote this at age 75.
Kyoshi wrote this, as I understood, with respect to his own way of writing haiku, different from some of the haiku poets of his time, to show he was going his own way, whatever the criticism would be. It shows a strong self confidence in this word HITORI.

kare ichigo ware ichigo aki fukami kamo

he says one word
I say one word
and autumn deepens

WKD : Takahama Kyoshi 高浜 虚子

other possibilities of the translation

Kyoshi hitori ginga to tomo ni nishi e yuku
source : WHC workshop

I, Kiyoshi,
alone with the Milky Way
headed West

Bill K


I, Kyoshi
and a million galaxys
on my way

I, on the southern cross
know the way
to the otherside



karasu naite watashi mo hitori

The cawing of a crow -
I also am alone.


Unison (shoowa 唱和) haiku by two friends

seki o shite mo hitori

even when I cough
I am alone

ichinichi mono iwazu choo no kage sasu

all day I say nothing
a butterfly casts a shadow

Ozaki Hoosai, Ozaki Hosai (1885 - 1926)

. honkadori 本歌取り alluding to a poem .


ochi-tsubaki ware naraba kyuuryuu e otsu

if I were a fallen camellia
I would fall
into a rapid stream

Tr. Fay Aoyagi

. Takaha Shugyo 鷹羽狩行 .

Related words

***** Verbs used in Haiku
implying an actor

. My Life, my fate (mi no ue 身に上) and Haiku   



anonymous said...

a deep gorge . . .
some of the silence
is me

— John Stevenson


with a discussion about NATURE

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

furugiya, furugi-ya 古着屋 dealer in old cloths
a second-hand clothing store

furugi kai 古着買い buyer of old cloths
and more in EDO