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Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa

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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1994 Hard cover Good. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 329 p. Contains: Illustrations. Essential Poets (Ecco), 20.

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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)
Ray Olson
Rather than eclectically sampling the entire 400-year haiku tradition, editor Hass offers some 300 poems by its defining masters--Basho (1644-94), Buson (1716-83), and Issa (1763-1827). Introductorily, he discusses the Buddhist characteristics of the classic haiku and the context--that of Japan emerging from feudalism into mercantilism--in which it developed. He prefaces each master's poems with a sketch of his life, follows them up with excerpts from his prose, and he appends to all explanatory notes so informative that you want to keep a finger in the back of the book to enable quick reference. Also appended are long notes on "Haikai, Hokku, and Haiku" and on translating haiku into English, each so illuminating that reading them before reading the poems is a capital idea. Definitely more for serious literary readers than those who think of haiku as a higher sort of greeting card verse, the book is yet so full of poetry-reading delights that it may make serious students of mere haiku poetasters. Particularly striking in these versions is Issa, whose humanism (Hass calls it; others will call it earthiness--and only to praise it) is vital and engaging.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880013727
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/1994
  • Series: Essential Poets
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 1.13 (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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