Essential Haiku

( 4 )

Overview

American readers have been fascinated, since their exposure to Japanese culture late in the nineteenth century, with the brief Japanese poem called the hokku or haiku. The seventeen-syllable form is rooted in a Japanese tradition of close observation of nature, of making poetry from subtle suggestion. Infused by its great practitioners with the spirit of Zen Buddhism, the haiku has served as an example of the power of direct observation to the first generation of American modernist poets like Ezra Pound and ...

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Overview

American readers have been fascinated, since their exposure to Japanese culture late in the nineteenth century, with the brief Japanese poem called the hokku or haiku. The seventeen-syllable form is rooted in a Japanese tradition of close observation of nature, of making poetry from subtle suggestion. Infused by its great practitioners with the spirit of Zen Buddhism, the haiku has served as an example of the power of direct observation to the first generation of American modernist poets like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and also as an example of spontaneity and Zen alertness to the new poets of the 1950's.

This definite collection brings together in fresh translations by an American poet the essential poems of the three greatest masters: Matsuo Basho in the seventeenth century; Yosa Buson in the eighteenth century; and Kobayashi Issa in the early nineteenth century. Robert Haas has written a lively and informed introduction, provided brief examples by each poet of their work in the halibun, or poetic prose form, and included informal notes to the poems. This is a useful and inspiring addition to The Essential Poets series.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hass ( Human Wishes ) defers to the complex syntactical gaps that separate the Japanese and English languages, calling his translations ``versions.'' Here he presents three masters of the haiku form: Basho (1644-1694), the haiku poet most familiar to English readers; Buson (1716-1783), a visually oriented writer renowned in his time as a painter; and Issa (1763-1827), whose work is most poignant when he utilizes his ironic wit. Hass's obsessions, as evidenced by his other work, can be fitted under two rubrics, grief and pleasure, and he chooses a fair number of haiku to represent these poles. Yet the poems that merely observe nature's cyphers are most absorbing. Hass's signature is apparent in the mixture of sensual and temporal imagery: ``The jars of octopus-- / brief dreams / under the summer moon'' (Basho). Buson's images settle in the mind for days with their lush, unexpected vistas: ``A field of mustard, / no whale in sight, / the sea darkening.'' Yet, surprisingly, it is Issa's haiku which may appeal most to Western readers. His benignly sardonic grasp of experience resonates with our late 20th-century cynicism: ``New Year's Day-- / everything is in blossom! / I feel about average.'' Or: ``I'm going out, / flies, so relax, / make love.'' Hass also includes samplings of each poet's prose, giving a deeper notion of their individual world views and aesthetics. Richly annotated, with illuminating essays on the poets and Japanese poetics, this anthology significantly broadens the pleasure of haiku for anyone unable to read them in the original. (June)
Library Journal
Many versions of these simple poems exist in English, yet translators, who are often poets themselves, are led back to them time and time again by the urge somehow to get closer to the mark. This distinguished collection gathers together the three most highly regarded practitioners of haiku from different periods in Japanese history. The translations are presented in a fresh setting that offers a great deal of valuable background on the haiku form, the verse conventions from which it grew, and the difficulties inherent in translating from the Japanese. Examples from the prose works of each poet are included as well. The haiku stand on their own quite nicely in these strong versions, but the accompanying material and comparative context make this an attractive and valuable collection. Highly recommended.-Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., N.Y.
Booknews
A collection of the three greatest masters of haiku--Basho (17th century), Buson (18th century), and Issa (19th century)--chosen, translated, and introduced by the distinguished American poet Robert Haas. Published by The Ecco Press, 100 West Broad St., Hopewell, NJ 08525. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880013512
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/1995
  • Series: Essential Poets Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 545,808
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Hass is the author of two earlier collections of poems, Field Guide and Praise, and a book of essays, Twentieth Century Pleasures. He has also collaborated with Czeslaw Milosz on the translation of his poems, most recently Collected Poems. His many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur fellowship and the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. He has taught for many years at St. Mary's College of California and is currently a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Read an Excerpt

Even in Kyoto--
hearing the cuckoo's cry--
I long for Kyoto.

This road--
no one goes down it,
autumn evening.

The whitebait
opens its black eye
in the net of the law.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
I Basho 1
Matsuo Basho 3
"The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling" 55
The Saga Diary 59
II Buson 71
Yosa Buson 73
Long Poems 127
From New Flower Picking 137
III Issa 143
Kobayashi Issa 145
From Journal of My Father's Last Days 197
From A Year of My Life 217
IV Basho on Poetry 231
Learn from the Pine 233
From Kyorai's Conversations with Basho 239
Notes 251
A Note on Haikai, Hokku, and Haiku 299
A Note on Translation 309
Further Reading 319
Acknowledgments 325
Copyright Acknowledgments 327
About the Editor 331
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2012

    Wonderful and emotional

    Amazingly well written haiku. Really gives you a new perspective and insight into what life was like in Feudal Japan.
    I originally was not a fan of haiku but this book brought tears to my eyes with it's honesty and raw emotion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2009

    Haiku is one of my favorite forms of poetry.

    Excellent read.

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  • Posted February 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Hass's Essential Haiku

    I have read many translations of haiku, especially that of Basho, the original haiku master, and for me Hass has captured the essence of haiku in a way that no other translator has. With Hass you feel the spirituality, sensitivity and humor of this art form, sometimes captured in a single punctuation mark. Because haiku are so short, every word, every dash is imperative to its aesthetic pronouncement. Hass, being a significant poet in his own right, has the ability to convey much more than the literal - he gets as close as one can to expressing the eternal.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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