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Gabriel Rosenstock on Issa

Gabriel Rosenstock

The Universal Spirit of Issa

The most beautiful thing we can experience in life is the mysterious.
—Albert Einstein

Picking up a book called Writing and Enjoying Haiku by Jane Reichhold (Kodansha International, 2002) one notices dozens of references to Basho in the Index and not one reference to Issa. It's as if Issa has been stuck with the 'country bumpkin' label instead of being acknowledged as one of the three pillars of the haiku world.

In Makoto Ueda's Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa (Brill, 2004) we read: 'His poetry is lacking in the viewpoint that transcends time and space.' I fail to see the truth of this statement. I am constantly drawn to Issa precisely because he transcends, over and over again, the particularities of his own time and space and gloriously so in the following haiku which I gently trumpeted at a conference in Plattsburgh not so long ago:

óm chroíse
a thiteann
sneachta Shinano

falling from my heart
the snows
of Shinano

When I receive the Daily Issa service from David Lanoue, I gaelicise those haiku that hit the spot, that transcend time and space for me. This is my spontaneous personal response to the burst of light which Issa releases for me. Then I often do a back translation, that is to say I translate my Irish into English, and this delightful activity keeps me out of the pub and out of prison.

The snows in the above haiku are as universal as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and deserve to be as famous as the snows of that short story or any other snows you care to mention. The above snow-haiku is a miraculous encapsulation of that most desired quality in haiku, and in life, interpenetration. This is not something you can fake. This is not something you can manufacture. It's a gift. Issa had it. His gift was great. There is more than interpenetration at work here. This is pure non-duality, the internal world and the external world fused as one. This is, manifestly, a transcendence of time and space. It is the stopping of time. The snows are falling from Issa's heart. They will do so forever. Universally.

a ghé, a ghé fhiáin
cén tús
a bhí le d'aistear?

goose, wild goose
what was the beginning
of your journey?

Here we see the child-like universal quality of wonder which characterises great haiku and great art across many genres. But it expresses more than idle wistfulness, of course. Issa, it seems to me, had the great gift of cosmic intelligence. He may not have had as much education or the same sophisticated insights as a Buson or a Basho; nevertheless, he instinctively knew what all the great writers of the world, writers of immense stature such as Shakespeare or Goethe, were constantly seeking to plumb, the very nature and meaning of existence itself. What was the beginning of your journey, he asks. But this endearing naivety hides a tremendous, a frightening profundity. What Issa is really doing in this great haiku is looking at the Self. He is engaging in what Advaita asks us to do, Self-Enquiry, in meditating the Self, in abiding in the Self, in knowing that in fact the Self is beginningless and therefore endless. Yeats said, 'I am looking for the face I had before the world was made.' Precisely. And Osho's epitaph? 'Osho, never born, never died.' And we have it here in Issa, in his contemplation of the goose and it is utterly, utterly wonderful!

Issa knew what he was doing. He was a conscious poet, dedicated to the life of a poet. No other life was possible for him and even when weakened by a stroke there was a palanquin there for him from which he could observe the world. He says in his journal, 'A wandering poet can't help being what he is any more than can a wave that breaks on the shore. His time is short, like foam that disappears in a minute.' Thus the name he gave himself, Issa the feathery foam in a cup of tea. Blink and it's gone. And the haiku moment, how fleeting it is.

glacann colainn
an Bhúda léi
báisteach an gheimhridh

the body of the Buddha
accepts it
winter rain

We see the cosmic mind at work again in this sobering haiku, the universal in the particular. I would argue that Issa's prolific output is due to one thing and one thing only, namely that he was charged with a cosmic battery, that he was in tune with the infinite, that all things were alive and full of grace and majesty to him, even the lowliest forms of life especially the lowliest forms of life.

a pháistí
ná ciapaigí an dreancaid sin
tá clann uirthi

children
don't torment that flea!
she has offspring

Were children to recite this haiku everyday, bullying might disappear. Once bullying disappears, you never know. . . wars might become unacceptable!

Let's get back to the Buddha and the rain. The body of the Buddha accepts the winter rain. Of course it does. It accepts everything. The Buddha became enlightened not for me or you but for everybody and everything. And, subtly, Issa gives the initiated reader a hint that says: so with the Buddha, so with Issa. He, too, accepts the winter rain. He does not argue with it. How can he? Chilling the winter rain may be, but it is charged with divine energy, divine grace. It is rain, a universal gift and a necessity for life. Uisce na spéire it's sometimes called in Irish, sky-water. Haiku is a bridge between heaven and earth.

Rain and snow. . .. Rain and snow . . .

anoir, aniar,
aneas, aduaidh ...
caidhleadh sneachta

from the east, from the west,
from the south, from the north,
driving snow

Issa sees through the driving snow, he sees it coming from all directions, because our country bumpkin has a vantage point, the vantage point of cosmic intelligence. The evidence for this is insurmountable but we may not have seen what was before our eyes. We may have been fooled into thinking that Issa wrote nothing other than charming, amusing and sometimes sentimental haiku, much appreciated by children. Lucky children to have such a Master. Issa is a Master like none other. It is not that I am extrapolating layers of meaning that are not really there. They are there, most assuredly, to the sympathetic eye.

dúnann an doras
is titeann dá chodladh ...
slimide

he closes the door
and goes to sleep . . .
a snail

What is he saying here, that he too switches off sometimes? No, it seems to me that an enlightened master is always awake and the more I absorb Issa the more it strikes me that he was, in fact, an enlightened master. For all his travails and hardships, his spirit was free:

croí éadrom
ag eitilt tríd an saol seo...
féileacán bánghorm

a light heart
floating through this world ...
a pale blue butterfly

Many such haiku could be said to form part of a spiritual autobiography. Look at the interpenetration we have in the following haiku:

stánann sí idir an dá shúil
ar an bhfear
gé ag imeacht

she looks at him
straight in the eye
departing goose

What a moment in time, captured forever. The universality of this haiku is in its grasping the reality of time, of change, of movement, of seasonality but as the Indian non-dualist sage, Papaji, once said, 'We do not seize Reality; Reality seizes us.' And time and time again, Reality seizes Issa and he tells us what it's like, this hair-raising confrontation with what is real, with what it feels like to be awake, to be looked straight in the eye by a goose that's about to depart. It's full of mystery as well. There is something ineffable about this strange encounter between man and bird, yet wonderfully real for all that.

Reading Issa, we get a strong feeling of an awakened one, of someone who doesn't wish to drift off into fanciful worlds:

tabhair slogadh na lachan
do thaibhreamh seo bhreacadh an lae
a chuaichín

gobble up
my dawn dream
cuckoo

His pure response to the pure call of the cuckoo is that the bird might, as it were, gobble up all his fantasies, dreams and illusions and leave him only with the purity of the beginner's mind.

leánn uaim
ina chearnóg fhoirfe
sneachta an gheata

in a perfect square
the snow on the gate
disappearing

The endless coming and going of phenomena, the appearance and the disappearance of generation after generation, of civilisation after civilisation. It's all in Issa if you look. He tells it as it is. The snow. And the melting of the snow. We don't get one without the other. Issa wants us to have a full picture. The picture given above, 'in a perfect square the snow on the gate disappearing' would, I think have been appreciated by Dutch artist and Theosophist, Piet Mondrian.

an chéad bhrat sneachta
ina scifle ...
préacháin

the first blanket of snow
all in rags ...
crows

Nothing sentimental about that, is there? It's not quite nature 'red in tooth and claw' but hints at it nicely. In English poetry, such as "London Snow" by Robert Bridges, we often find a picture-postcard view of nature:

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town...

A different sensibility is at work in the haiku of the Japanese master. We do not necessarily have to prefer one to the other. Each has its special qualities. What Bridges tries to achieve is something similar to Walter de la Mare's poem, "Snow":

No breath of wind,
No gleam of sun,
Still the white snow
Whirls softly down
Twig and bough
And blade and thorn
All in an icy
Quiet, forlorn...

But I could not read Bridges or Walter de la Mare repeatedly, over a lifetime. Issa I can. He never gets stale, not for me at any rate, and it is because his haiku emerge not from some imaginative, atmosphere-building fiction but from the depths (or heights) of Reality itself. Furthermore, each glimpse of Reality is as real as the next:

an ráib faoi bhláth
agus nuair a fhéachaim siar
Teampall Zenko

flowering rape
and looking west
Zenko Temple

gealach an fhómhair
agus nuair a fhéachaim siar
Teampall Zenko

harvest moon
and looking west
Zenko Temple

Such close similarity between two poems would be intolerable to poetry lovers. Mainstream poetry would, rightly, see it as a form of self-plagiarism. Not so in haiku. Because it is Reality that matters. And nothing is as universal as Reality, Reality that reflects nature, the spirit of nature, human nature, animal nature:

ag imeacht san áit
ar gann iad na sealgairí éan -
an sionnach

he sneaks off
to where fowlers are scarce
the fox

Issa's sympathy is with the fox, of course, but in a way it's with everything and everybody, even the bird hunters. What I like about this haiku is its connectedness to the earth, to landscape, to the ways of the land. One of the problems we encounter in the haiku world today is that city haikuists often bend over backwards to argue for the validity of urban haiku. Urban haiku existed in Issa's time but he reminds us that in the area of the old capital, Edo, even the scarecrows are crooked! So be warned! There may be a sneaking admiration in the above haiku for the wily old fox; after all, Issa was not the best at handling his worldly affairs. But even the fox doesn't always get his own way:

imithe le gealaigh
ag na clocha sneachta
sionnach

hail stones
driving him crackers
the fox

Poets such as Robert Bridges and Walter de la Mare rely on stock devices rhyme, rhythm, onomotopoeia and so on devices which the haiku shuns. Avoiding these imaginative layers of beguiling ornamentation and suggestion, dispensing even with a title, the haiku relies solely on the pure shock of Reality. We must talk now about fleas: they too are part of reality, of the scheme of things. Let's revisit the flea haiku above:

children
don't torment that flea!
she has offspring

This is not, I would argue, an example of anthropomorphism. Off course a flea has offspring, otherwise how do fleas come into being? Rabindranath Tagore says there is no higher religion than that of sympathy for all that lives. And Einstein says, 'Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.' Issa's sympathy for fleas and baby sparrows is often interpreted as simply amusing or touching. It is much, much greater than that. The flea-haiku is a statement of universal compassion. Only someone who was taunted or exluded, or witnessed exclusion, could write such an effective haiku which is nothing short of a plea from the heart for all cruelty and aggression to end.

Issa's enlightenment is found in the balance of rest and activity:

ag socrú síos arís
sa chiúnas séimh
géanna na ngort ríse

settling down again
in gentle stillness
geese in the rice fields

Sublime! It's almost a call to meditation. It is universal in the sense that rest and activity is the lot of all beings. The scene is described on the cusp of serenity, so to speak. The geese are settling down again, which is not the same as some seconds earlier when all is commotion, or some seconds later when the geese are reposing: we actually catch a glimpse of them in motion, settling down to motionlessness. This is superb interpenetration, the spirit, the inner eye following the dynamics of a fleeting moment, becoming that fleeting moment itself and the stillness thereafter.

Actually, we might say that its fleetingness is precisely what demands spontaneous alacrity from the haijin, a response which is more than perception, or mere observation, and it is this which creates the haiku moment.

Certainly Issa had his sorrows and travails but throughout his body of haiku great joy issues forth as from a fountain:

na raidisí fiú
ag bláthú sa ghort ...
an fhuiseog ag ceiliúradh

even the radishes
in the field blooming...
the lark singing!

This is the spontaneous often unexpected ecstasy experienced by poets and mystics universally and it can visit any of us, at any time, when we are at one with creation. There is nothing to be sought, to be desired; listen to the delicious sermon of the radishes, that's all, and the heavens will open in song.

And even in a more sombre mood, Issa is saying... what can be added? This is enough beauty, enough happiness for any man:

ag breathnú ar an sliabh
ag breathnú ar an muir ...
tráthnóna fómhair

looking at the mountain
looking at the sea...
autumn evening

The gaze, the untroubled gaze, stretching into infinity, at one with the nature of the Self and the universe. The simplicity of it all. I'm sure it unnerves quite a lot of people! It's strange how people react differently to a handful of syllables. Some people enter the mood immediately. It's more than a mood, of course. Others are untouched, unmoved.

I find myself being transformed by reading favourite haiku. It's not easy to describe. As I said above, it's more than a mood. It's not like being injected with a mood-altering substance. It is really an awakening. Something of the quality of dreams colours our perceptions and a good haiku is like a splash of water from a cool mountain stream that wakes us up from our doze. Looking at the mountain/looking at the sea .../autumn evening. A universal experience, timeless, and ever new. The act of making a haiku is a celebration of pure consciousness. Thousands of millions of people have gazed at a mountain, have gazed at the sea. But with what degree of consciousness, of awareness? The haiku opens up all our channels of perception to take in the mystery of mountain and sea, the soul of the mountain and sea; the haiku act is an act of interpenetration, a kind of celibate eroticism!

And from vast vistas back to minutiae again:

báisteach earraigh
ar dhuille an bhambú
á lí ag luch

licking spring rain
from a bamboo leaf...
mouse

In the last line of the Irish version, á lí ag luch, you can actually hear the little tongue lapping up the droplets of rain. And this is the great gift of haiku, and Issa's wonderful gift to us. He shares with us his blessed witnessing of the unfolding of life in a myriad ways; most of these revelations are quite ordinary and reveal how extraordinary the ordinary is. We are there with the mouse. It is the mouse, not a pop star or president, that is centre stage, for a few seconds. That little mouse has been immortalized by Issa in a manner which may well outlive Mickey Mouse.

Issa's boundless creativity is such that he is naturally in tune with the thousand and one creations and recreations that are going on all around him all of the time, from season to season, year in, year out, and he never tires of these daily miracles:

castáin bheaga
ar mhún an capall orthu...
ag glioscarnach, úrnua

little chestnuts
pissed on by the horse...
shiny new

This is a strikingly fresh metaphor for what is going on inside Issa himself. His seeing the world through haiku-vision means that he, too, is being sublty altered and refined by all that he sees and hears, all that he smells, touches and feels. He is walking the haiku path, ceaselessly, living and expressing the haiku creed which is nothing but life itself in its neverending game of decay and renewal. Indeed, Issa saw not only change around him but metamorphosis. He says in his journal (Oraga Haru): 'No sooner has the snow of last year disappeared in sumer than the first frosts of autumn have come. All the trees not native to this place but brought in from better climates undergo some changes. The mandarin orange tree shrinks to half its natural size ...' I love this observation... the shrinking tree; it's almost a metaphor for haiku itself.

beatha an tseilmide
téann a luí agus éiríonn
díreach mar atá sé

the life of a snail
he goes to bed and gets up
just the way he is

This is priceless! Haiku's compactness makes it wonderfully suitable to handling small things. Not that haiku couldn't handle a herd of elephants, of course it could. But there's something exquisitely charming about Issa's haiku that deal with frogs, fireflies, fleas and snails. 'The life of a snail/he goes to bed and gets up/ just the way he is'. Just the way he is, that's great. As if he could be any other way. And Issa says that the way he is is fine. 100%. Just the way he is is perfect. And so it is. . .

This identification with snails and the like is also a form of self-effacement. The sage with the Chinese name (whose father was High Sheriff of Armagh, God help us!), Wei Wu Wei, observed that a saint is someone who disciplines the ego and a sage is one that drops it.

tús an earraigh
gealbhain ag an ngeata
gona n-aghaidheanna beaga

beginning of Spring
sparrows at the gate
with their little faces

Issa observes the sparrows at the gate and then his heart goes out to them and sees their little faces. It is the heart that sees. He might have had his head in the clouds a lot of the time but Saint Exupéry got it right when he said something very similar: 'It's only with the heart that one sees rightly.' Issa saw with the heart, the universal heart of man. He saw with the heart like none other. But it is not the way of the world, alas, to see with the heart. And that is why Issa's world stature is not as great as it should be.

Let's go back to Zenko Temple:

is cosúil go rabhadar
i dTeampall Zenko
aghaidheanna na mionghealbhan

faces looking like
they've been to Zenko Temple
baby sparrows

Read this haiku with the purity of mind in which it was composed and we, too, become visitors to Zenko Temple; we, too, acquire the face of a baby sparrow, the Eternal innocence of our inherent Budda nature. The Self cannot be defiled. The mind and the body can know defilement but not the Self. Issa's immortal haiku spring from his immortal Self. (Not all of his haiku, of course. He could indulge in trivia as well).

an broigheall is gile liomsa
é siúd a thagann aníos
is a ghob folamh!

my favourite cormorant
the one who surfaces
with nothing

In parts of the East, they still fish with cormorants, their necks ringed so that they don't swallow the catch, and Issa's favourite is the one who comes up with nothing.

In a world obsessed with success, Issa teaches us to love a loser. If there isn't a Love a Loser Day, let's have one! 'My favourite cormorant/the one who surfaces/with nothing'. Perfect!

The nothing is also something, of course. As a Buddhist, Issa would have contemplated nothing, emptiness, the Void. Nothing is essential. Without nothing there can't be anything. And the Void, sunyata, is universal. The Heart Sutra tells us form is emptiness, emptiness form. This understanding adds an extra flavour to the cormorant- haiku.

Issa's Buddhism can be expressed in pious, traditional terms or equally with a touch of humour. In this haiku we overhear the tea-harvesters:

"Molaimis an Búda!
Molaimis an Búda!"
ag piocadh duilleoga tae

"Praise Buddha
praise Buddha!"
picking tea-leaves

The lowliest tasks become impregnated with a celestial flavour. And in the next, an awesome statue of the Buddha makes us smile:

ar shrón oirirc
an Bhúda oirirc
bior seaca

from the esteemed nose
of the esteemed Buddha
an icicle

Has the serene beauty of the statue been lessened by the icicle, and caused us to fall from the sublime to the ridiculous? No. The statue is made of stone. The icicle on the other hand is a living thing. Zen-haiku Master J. W. Hackett says: 'Remember that lifefulness, not beauty, is the real quality of haiku.' Lifefulness! Issa is not lacking in that respect.

nuair a lonnaíonn
an filiméala sa ghiúis
guth na giúise

when the nightingale
settles in the pine
the voice of the pine

We keep returning to interpenetration. Einstein talked about extending our circle of compassion to all living things. We have concluded that we can do this perfectly by seeing with the heart. We have seen Issa to excel in this field, perhaps above all other haijin. Look at this:

a chastána beaga
nach mion minic
a shatlaítear oraibh!

little chestnuts
how often
you are trampled upon

My Romanian grandson, Seán, visited us recently and I introduced him to all my friends, including a dog turd. Flies had gathered. 'Say hello to my friends, the poo-flies!" I said to him. He was somewhat astounded by my circle of friends but I think he got the message.

Issa's chestnut-haiku is seeing with a very big heart indeed, into the living heart of the universe:

oíche shamhraidh
tá na réaltaí fiú
ag cogarnaíl lena chéile.

In Robert Hass's translation:

summer night
even the stars
are whispering to one another! [note]

This is the gift of haiku, of course. It gives a hint, just a hint, but an unmistakeable hint nonetheless, of immensity. To have written such a haiku, there must have been an immensity in Issa himself. Whether he was conscious of this immensity or took it for granted is not the central point. His was a great soul, a mahatma, a universal spirit.




A selection of Issa's haiku in Irish

by Gabriel Rosenstock



tailte an teampaill
sceitheann nathair, leis,
a róba saolta

temple grounds--
a snake too sheds
his worldly robe

*
bláthanna léana -
i nduibheagán an drúchta
clingeann an clog

wildflowers--
in the depths of the dew
the bell tolls

*
guthanna thall
is abhus, ag déanamh scime
don lampróg

voices calling
here and there, perplexing
for the firefly

*
"Tá an fómhar tagtha..."
goirín&iactue; gé orm
á rá

"Autumn's begun"
just saying it
I feel cold

*
grafóg ag glioscarnach
sa stóras...
céadamhscarnach na bliana

in the storehouse
the hoe glinting...
year's first dawn

*
clog luí na gréine -
leathchluas clúdaithe
le gaothrán páipéir

sunset bell--
one ear covered
with my paper fan

*
an chéad bhrat sneachta
ina scifle ...
préacháin

the first snowfall
scratched to bits...
crows

*
an ráib faoi bhláth
agus nuair a fhéachaim siar -
Teampall Zenkó

flowering rape--
and looking west
Zenko Temple

*
stánann sí idir an dá shúil
ar an bhfear -
gé ag imeacht

the departing goose
stares the man
in the face

*
gabhann
thar an ngort mór leis
ré bhláthanna na bplumaí

also rambling
over the big field...
plum blossom moon

*
An léi féin, leis,
a chodlaíonn mo réaltsa?
Bealach na Bó Finne

does my star too
sleep alone?
Heaven's River

*
creid sa Bhúda, creid!
taoise, leis, bliain níos sine,
a ghadhair

trust, trust in Buddha!
you're a year older too
dog

*
clamhsán
na ngealbhan óg ...
lá deireanach an earraigh

the young sparrows
clamor at spring's
last day

*
súiche á scuabadh
is mé ag smaoisíl -
briseadh beag sake

sweeping soot
sniffling
I take a sake break

*
dúnann an doras
is titeann a chodladh air ...
slimide

closing the door
he drops off to sleep...
snail

*
síolphlandaí ríse -
cuntanós caite
an tsean-Bhúda

rice seedlings--
the old Buddha's
weary face

*
tabhair slogadh na lachan
do thaibhreamh seo bhreacadh an lae
a chuaichín!

gobble up
my dawn dream...
cuckoo!

*
sioc trom
ar an seantigh, fear an tí
sa chré

heavy frost
on the old house, its owner
in the ground

*
ruball na snáthaide móire,
leis, ag dul in aois
lá i ndiaidh lae

the dragonfly's tail, too
day by day
grows old

*
titim na hoíche
an cat strae,leis,
ag lorg céile

the stray cat too
goes wife-hunting...
nightfall

*
cúpla ubhthoradh ar sliobarna, leis,
thall is abhus ...
goirt dhreoite

here and there
eggplants dangle too...
withered fields

*
splanc thintrí -
dreach an ghadhair
is deargiontas air

lightning flash--
the astonished face
of the dog

*
colúir ag cúpláil
préacháin mar an gcéanna
báisteach an earraigh ag titim

pigeons mating
crows mating...
the spring rain falls

*
poipín aige á iompar
gabhann
tríd an slua

carrying a poppy
he passes through
the crowd

*
an capaillín leis
ag imeacht ar aistear -
crónú lae sa bhfómhar

the pony also
sets off on a journey...
autumn dusk

*
cúis mhaith chun sake a ól
breathnú ar bhraonta drúchta
i mbliana

even viewing dewdrops
an occasion for sake...
this year

*
cachtais -
tráthnóna fómhair
leamh, gan snua

cactuses--
a facelessly dull
autumn evening

*
suíonn sé síos
de phlab...
an frog

down he sits
with a great thump...
frog

*
rírá na ngéanna fiáine
is préachán gaisciúil -
an gcloistí!

wild geese clamoring
and one pretentious
crow

*
féar baoth...
ag dul i bhfad
ar nós na laethanta

vain grass--
you grow longer
as do the days

*
luí na gréine
agus tá snáthaidí móra
ar fud na bhfud

sunset--
the town is buzzing
with dragonflies

*
I measc na ndeor drúchta
gealann meon
an fhéileacáin

among the dewdrops
the butterfly's mood
improves

*
bláthanna léana -
i nduibheagán an drúchta
clingeann an clog

wildflowers--
in the depths of the dew
the bell tolls

*
drúcht na maidine
breis is mo dhóthain
chun m'aghaidh a ní

morning dew
more than enough
for face-washing

*
trup trap na báistí -
an broigheall fiáin áil
ag caoineadh ar ghéag

pitter-patter rain--
a wild cormorant mother
cries on a branch

*
socair agus séimh
is é ag breathnú
ar na sléibhte: frog

serene and still
the mountain viewing
frog

*
a leithéid!
na géanna ag imeacht
i lár na díleann seo

what a thing!
in this deluge
the geese depart

*
giúis na hathbhliana...
fiú don té a chacann
sa ghort

even for the man
pooping in the field...
New Year's pine

*
gíocs na bhfeithidí istoíche -
cad fé bhur máithreacha
is bhur n-aithreacha?

insects chirp in the night--
what of your mothers?
your fathers?

*
"Moladh leis an mBúda!"
"Moladh leis an mBúda!"
Nach fada an oíche í

"Praise Buddha!
Praise Buddha!"
it's a long night

*
an bothán so agam
is muine na ndreancaidi
béal dorais

my home--
next door to a thicket
of fleas

*
a ghé, a ghé fhiáin
cén tús
a bhí le d'aistear?

goose, wild goose
when did your
journey begin?

*
na raidisí fiú
ag bláthú sa ghort
an fhuiseog ag ceiliúradh

even the field's
radishes blooming...
the lark singing!

*
ag breathnú ar an sliabh
ag breathnú ar an muir ...
tráthnóna fómhair

looking at the mountain
looking at the sea...
autumn evening

*
a leithéid de bhéal!
d'fhéadfadh sé scamall a aiseag ...
buaf

with that mouth
he could vomit a cloud...
toad

*
báisteach earraigh
ar dhuille an bhambú
á lí ag luch

licking a bamboo leaf's
spring rain...
mouse

*
ón mbéal
a chreim an dreancaid:
"moladh go deo leis an mBúda!"

the mouth that gnawed
a flea, "All praise
to Amida Buddha!"

*
leánn uaim
ina chearnóg fhoirfe
sneachta an gheata

the gate's snow
in a perfect square
flows away

*
cuireann sé uaigneas
ar an gcorr bhán....
an fear bréige

making the stork
feel lonely...
the scarecrow

*
lusanna na gealaí -
ina gceann is ina gceann
á gcorraí ag an ngaoth

moonflowers--
one by one the wind
rustles them

*
scaipeadh na mionseangán
ar chách ...
an fhuiseog ag ceiliúradh

people scatter
like ants...
the lark sings

*
gearrchaile...
shéid smuga
ar lus na gealaí, an gcreidfeá

blowing her snot
on the moonflower...
a young girl

*
sraoth
a dhúisíonn mé...
sioc ar an bhféar

waking up
with a sneeze...
frost on the grass

*
a philibíní
an cógas gutha daoibh é
an sneachta ag titim?

is the falling snow
medicine for your voices
plovers?

*
folach bíog acu á dhéanamh
i measc na mbláthanna tae ...
gealbhain

playing hide-and-seek
in tea blossoms...
sparrows

*
clagarnach!
filleann na géanna fiáine
ina líbíní báite

big rain--
soaked to the skin
the returning geese

*
Moladh leis an mBúda!
Tá mo ghoirtín ráibe
faoi bhláth

Praise Buddha!
my little side-field
has bloomed with rape

*
an fhuinneog thoir ...
léas ó bhláthanna
na sléibhte i gcéin

the distant mountain's
blossoms cast their light...
east window

*
tigh mo stóirín
is goirtín bláthanna
ar a chúl

my dear one's house
behind it a field
of flowers

*
beag beann
ar fhuacht na maidine ...
péacáin ríse

paying no heed
to morning's cold...
shoots of rice

*
géanna ag eitilt leo
faoi choim ...
rosamh na maidine

under the cover
of morning haze
geese taking off

*
an crann plumaí ag an ngeata
faoi bhláth
dá ainneoin féin

the plum tree at my gate
though reluctantly
has bloomed!

*
san imigéin -
os cionn na ngort glas ríse
trí shliabh

far distance--
above green rice fields
three mountains

*
castáin bheaga
ar mhún an capall orthu...
ag glioscarnach, úrnua

little chestnuts
pissed on by the horse...
shiny new

*
nach breá an léim sin
thar an tine aige -
cat na drúise

jumping so well
over the fire...
the love-crazed cat

*
gaoth an fhómhair -
a rois is eol don aghaidh
sa bhothán sléibhe

autumn wind--
a face used to its blast
in his mountain home

*
a mhuinín aige sa Bhúda
féileacán beag ...
gaoth an fhómhair

in autumn wind
trusting in the Buddha...
little butterfly

*
spúnóg lán de shneachta
á leá
ag an leanbh

melting the big snow
with a spoon...
a child

*
cór na bhfroganna
ar charraig -
molaid, leis, an Búda

they praise Buddha too--
frogs on a rock
in a row

*
folach bíog acu á dhéanamh
i measc na mbláthanna tae ...
gealbhain

playing hide-and-seek
in tea blossoms...
sparrows

*
ag seilg is ag siortú
i measc na mbláthanna -
cat Seapánach

his prowling route
over the flowers...
a Japanese cat

*
cantain an chriogair
is tionlacan í
le triomú an ghoirt ríse

the cricket's song
is accompaniment...
the rice field drains

*
tré bhraonta báistí
go faiteach ...
peidhlleacán earraigh

nervously
through the raindrops...
spring butterfly

*
sé an Búda é
fiú is é ina luí!
bláthanna ina gcith

even lying down
he's Buddha!
shower of blossoms

*
sé an chaoi a bhfuil sé
nach ndéantar tada sa teach seo ...
bíonn an lá fada

the way things are--
in my do-nothing house
the day is long

*
nuair a chloiseann sé
cuilt an gheimhridh á scaradh
seo chugainn an gealbhan

hearing the winter quilt
unfold, here comes
sparrow

*
tráthnóna glé -
ina líne bhánghorm
sléibhte an fhómhair

clear evening--
lined up in the pale blue
autumn mountains

*
a leithéid de bhéal!
d'fhéadfadh sé scamall a aiseag ...
buaf

with that mouth
he could vomit a cloud...
toad

*
bó á tabhairt amach
ón scioból dorcha ...
tá an lá fada

leading a cow
from the dark barn...
the day is long

*
catachas -
Abhainn na Súmida
ag sní idir uailleacha

cats' love calls--
between them flows
Sumida River

*
beagán ar bheagán
ag dul fé sa ráib bhláfar -
an ghrian

in flowering rape
step by step sinking...
sun

*
seilidí linne ag canadh
táid sa chiteal
gan fhios dóibh

pond snails sing
they're in the kettle
but don't know it

*
bambúnna beaga
gealbhain bheaga
bígí ag spraoi - ach go cneasta!

bamboo shoots, baby sparrows
play together
gently!

*
ag breathnú ar an sliabh
ag breathnú ar an muir ...
tráthnóna fómhair

looking at the mountain
looking at the sea...
autumn evening

*
an-aithris go deo...
sáraíonn an leanbh
an chailleach dhubh

outdoing the cormorant
with a fine imitation...
a child

*
faoi sholas na laindéar reilige
ag ithe ríse
lomnocht

by the light of graveside lanterns
eating rice -
totally naked

*
Takasago -
deamhain á ruaigeadh le liú
deamhan mantach ina measc

Takasago--
shouting away demons
a toothless one too

*
an t-adhartán céanna
á roinnt aige lena mháthair -
fia gonta

sharing the same pillow
with his mother...
wounded deer

*
criosantamam sléibhe...
cam ní bheidh
choíche ná go deo

mountain chrysanthemum--
growing crooked's a thing
it knows nothing about

*
bog as seo
a fhéileacáinín-
steallóga ón bhfolcadán

hey butterfly
move aside!
bath water's splashing

*
ar mhata súgáin
is é breac le súiche...
ag stánadh ar an ré

on a soot-grimed
straw mat too...
moon gazing

*
teampall cois farraige -
an seomra faoin gceobhrán
ag dul as

seaside temple--
the room in the mist
grows faint

*
breacadh Fuji!
sláinte na hathbhliana -
is fíon ríse lem bheol

Mount Fuji dawn--
a New Year's sake toast
at my lips

*
a bhaile deilgneach
á roinnt aige le péist -
castán mór

the big chestnut
shares his prickly home
with a worm

*
ó rinn ghob
an fhiliméala -
taoide thuile

from the tip
of the nightingale's beak
the tide rushes out

*
ná himigh,
ná himigh, a chara,
a chuaichín an tsléibhe

don't go! don't go!
in my circle of friends
a mountain cuckoo

*
nach mór an náire dhom é
is mo dhearna smeartha
le fioghual

how shameful--
with my charcoal-stained
palms...

*
seo chugainn mamó, leis,
bó a treorú ...
bláthanna silíní

granny comes too
led by a cow...
cherry blossoms

*
teampall sléibhe,
cácaí tae, subh pónairí dearga
criosantamaim

mountain temple--
teacakes, red bean jam
chrysanthemums

*
comhghuaillí uasal
an róis bhuí -
frog

the yellow rose's
honorable ally...
a frog

*
ná himigh,
ná himigh, a chara,
a chuaichín an tsléibhe

don't go! don't go!
in my circle of friends
a mountain cuckoo

*
bláthanna istoíche-
aighthe na ndaoine
a gcorraíonn an ceol iad

blossoms at night
and the faces of people
moved by music

*
faoi scáth na muine,
canann bean
ceol curadóireachta di féin

in the shade of the thicket,
a woman by herself,
singing the planting-song

*
gealach na gcoinlíní -
an taechupán á ransú
le haghaidh pinginí dí

harvest moon--
digging in the teacup
for sake money

*
beagán ar bheagán
ag bearradh chrúba an chapaill ...
gála an fhómhair

bit by bit
trimming the horse's hooves...
autumn gale

*
deireadh na bliana
baothchaint
ón gclogra gaoithe

wind-chime's
empty babble ends
the year

*
ag ligint air nach bhfeiceann sé
aghaidh a mhná -
iomrascálaí cloíte

pretending not to see
his wife's face...
defeated wrestler

*
a leithéid de lá!
paidir is ea é
an phraiseach a chorraí

this day--
even stirring gruel
is a prayer!

*
léim ollmhór -
an gadaí ar a theitheadh
agus cuach

a big leap--
the fleeing burglar
and a cuckoo

*
spléachadh ar an ngealaigh
os cionn mo bhaile dhúchais -
ansin néalta

a glimpse of moon
over my home village...
then clouds

*
an crann plumaí ainnis
seo agamsa -
faoi bhláth!

my hut's
down-and-out plum tree
has bloomed!

*
gearroícheanta samhraidh
á snaidhmeadh le chéile acu -
froganna ag canadh

stitching together
the short summer nights...
singing frogs

*
lá earraigh -
fiú i ndiaidh luí na gréine
feictear na Beanna Thoir

spring day--
even after sunset
Eastern Mountains can be seen



Some of the English translations of Issa on this page are by David G. Lanoue; one is by Robert Hass; others are versions done by Gabriel Rosenstock based on the English translations of others. Irish versions by Gabriel Rosenstock © 2010, rights reserved

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