A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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Commentary on a haiku by Kobayashi Issa

by Carolyn Coit Dancy

without you, dear
too wide and too long
the groves where we walked
kimi nakute makoto ni tadai no kodachi kana (Translation by Lewis Mackenzie in Autumn Wind Haiku, published by Kodansha International,1984.)

With my first reading of this haiku, its poignancy took my breath away. Obviously, Issa had lost a loved one (dear). When I was led down the lane where they used to walk, my heart broke, and I felt his grief with every step (too long). By sharing his grief so tenderly, Issa helps to minimize the reader’s pain and perhaps even his own. It is very difficult to witness despair. Yet here, Issa’s exquisite expression of his love shielded me from despair.

This haiku is also deceptively simple. Only with a second reading, did I grasp Issa’s loneliness. With the carefully chosen words too wide, I felt the empty space at his side. And then, a reverse image somehow came to mind in which I pictured them walking down the lane arm-in-arm. Consequently, the poem left me with a sense of peaceful acceptance. Quite a journey in so few words; a haiku that only a Master like Issa could have written.

It should be noted that the on-line Archives of 10,000 Issa Poems offers the following translation by David G. Lanoue:

without you -
how vast
is the grove
kimi nakute makoto ni tadai no kodachi kana 1817

Note: Editors of the Issa zenshû identify the "you" in this poem as Issa’s beloved friend and patron, Natsume Seibi, who had died the previous year (Shinano Mainichi Shimbunsha, Vol 3, 1976, p. 470). Source: David G. Lanoue


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