Extract | The Year of my Life; A translation of Issa’s Oraga Haru

Book Extracts

Issa was not only a Buddhist priest but also one of Japan’s greatest Haiku poets. His verses featured in this extract are quite mysterious…

Issa, whose real name was Yatarō Kobayashi, was born in the small mountain village of Kashiwabara in the province of Shinano (now called Nagano prefecture, central Japan) in 1763. He was the first son in a middle-class farm family. His father, Yagohei , is said to have had a taste for haiku and left a fairly good specimen of the form behind him at the time of his death… In 1765, when Yatarō was only a little over two, his mother died. This unfortunate loss was destined to cast ever deepening shadows over the mind of the child. He testifies to the power of her memory in the following poem written in later life:

Whenever I come

To see the ocean,

There is my mother’s

Beloved face.

… Now, by way of contrast, it may be averred that Issa’s imagery is not only humble but markedly vulgar. He is never happier than when writing of such subjects as fleas, flies, worms, and frogs. And in the bird kingdom, the humble crow and the unassuming sparrow are his favorites. 

Don’t kill!…

The fly is asking you

To spare his life

By rubbing his hands.


Be brave

Skinny frog!

Here I am

To back you up.


In diction, too it is interesting to observe that Issa often employs the vernacular - which is seldom, if ever, true of Bashō or Buson. His language abounds in popular idioms and in dialectal and colloquial expressions.

Spring rain -

A bunch of ducklings

Winter’s leftovers

Cry on the lake.

The Year of my Life; A translation of Issa’s Oraga Haru by Nobuyuki Yuasa pub. University of California Press. 2nd ed. 1972

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