D’s Poetry : Haiku 11 : Kobayashi Issa

D’s Poetry is a living archive of all poetry penned by me, Divvya Nirula. Join me on this journey today as we discuss one of the Four Haiku Masters, Kobayashi Issa.

“Snow capped mountain-side
Blood runs through rivers of wine,
The naked stone turns gold.”

Divvya Nirula

Kobayashi Issa : The Haiku Master

Issa was born Kobayashi Nobuyuki on June 15, 1763. He adopted his pen name Issa – which means ‘cup of tea’ later in life.

Issa lost his mother when he was only 3. And thus began a life marred with personal tragedy. Yet, Issa carried on – finding solace in his poetry.

The young boy’s father brought home another wife, and they had a child. Young Issa felt like an outside in his own home. Especially after his grandmother died. Following this, historical records suggest that the young man travelled to Edo. But little is known of his life after that. What we do know is that he married a few times and unfortunately witnessed the death of his own children. And also that he became a great Haiku Master, writing over 20,000 of these one-breath poems.

Kobayashi Issa was not only one of the most prolific Haikuists. He was also extremely talented. Gifted in his ability to express a whole range of emotions, in only one short verse. It is said that he wrote 200 Haiku on frogs alone. 150 on the mosquito and around 50 on the snail. Let us now enjoy a few of Issa’s Haiku. Here are some of my favourites, translated in English.

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

by Kobayashi Issa (translated by R. H. Blythe)

The above Haiku is quoted by JD Salinger in his famous 1961 novel, Franny & Zooey.

This dewdrop world
–Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

by Kobayashi Issa (translated by Lewis Mackenzie)

This one was written by Issa upon the death of his two year old daughter.


You are invited along on this journey of discovery and writing. For more poetry and verse by Divvya Nirula, please visit the archive for D’s Poetry.