The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Other Poets [NOOK Book]


Here are more than two hundred of the best haiku of Japanese literature translated by one of America’s premier poet-translators. The haiku is one of the most popular and widely recognized poetic forms in the world. In just three lines a great haiku presents a crystalline moment of image, emotion, and awareness. This illustrated collection includes haiku by the great masters from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century.

See more details below
The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Other Poets

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$9.49 price
(Save 13%)$10.95 List Price


Here are more than two hundred of the best haiku of Japanese literature translated by one of America’s premier poet-translators. The haiku is one of the most popular and widely recognized poetic forms in the world. In just three lines a great haiku presents a crystalline moment of image, emotion, and awareness. This illustrated collection includes haiku by the great masters from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780834825352
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/23/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 478,122
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Sam Hamill has translated more than two dozen books from ancient Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Latin, and Estonian. He has published fourteen volumes of original poetry. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Mellon Fund. He was awarded the Decoración de la Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela, the Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry from Washington Poets Association, and the PEN American Freedom to Write Award. He cofounded and served as Editor at Copper Canyon Press for thirty-two years and is the Director of Poets Against War.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Translator's Introduction

"Haiku," Bashō (1644–1694) was fond of saying, "is the heart of the Man'yoshu," the first imperial anthology, compiled in the eighth century. "Haiku," many modern Japanese poets are fond of saying, "began and ended with Bashō." Look beyond the hyperbole of either observation, and there is a powerful element of truth. As one Japanese poet told me, "There's only Bashō—and Buson and Issa are, as you say, exceptions proving the rule."

In three lines totaling seventeen syllables measuring 5-7-5, a great haiku presents—through imagery drawn from intensely careful observation—a web of associated ideas (rensō) requiring an active mind on the part of the listener. When Bashō writes:

How reluctantly
the bee emerges from deep
within the peony

is he merely presenting a pathetical fallacy, attributing human emotion to a bee, or is he entering into the authentic experience of "beeness" as deeply as possible? Perhaps both qualities are present. His detailed observation calls for something other than metaphor; it demands literal accuracy. Is the bee inside his mind or outside? The poem moves in part because of tension raised through the underlying question of duality that Zen resolves in silence.

The bee, the peony, the poet—all one idea composed of many.

In another poem, Bashō finds

Delight, then sorrow,
aboard the cormorant
fishing boat

without having to describe for his audience the nooses tied around the throats of fishing birds to inhibit swallowing. He is initially delighted by their amazing skill and grace, then horrified that they cannot swallow what they catch, saddened by their captivity and exploitation, and perhaps even more deeply saddened by the fishingfolk he never mentions. What remains unstated begs for a profound moral equation, although only the poet's compassion is clearly implied.

The best haiku reflect an undeniable Zen influence. Elements of compassion, silence, and awareness of temporality often combine to reveal a sense of mystery. Just as often, haiku may bring a startling insight into the ordinary, as when Buson writes:

Nobly, the great priest
deposits his daily stool
in bleak winter fields

thereby reminding his audience that nobility has nothing whatever to do with palaces and embroidered robes, but that true nobility is obtainable in every human endeavor.

Issa reminds the attentive listener:

A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

Haiku may be the most recognizable poetic form in the world. At play with the form, children quickly discover their own poetic imaginations; almost anyone can learn to make decently haiku in no time at all. Just as anyone can learn to write a quatrain or a sonnet. The problem remains: to be great, a poem must rise on its own merit, and too much haiku is merely haiku. Haiku written in American English and attempting to borrow traditional Japanese literary devices usually ends up smelling of the bric-a-brac shop, all fragmentary dust and mold or cheap glitter coating the ordinary, or—worse—the merely cute or contrived. Great haiku cuts both ways, sometimes witty or sarcastic, sometimes making Zenlike demands for that most extraordinary consciousness, no-mind or ordinary-mind.

Haiku should be approached with a daily sort of reverence, as we might approach an encounter with a great spiritual teacher. It is easy to imitate, it is difficult to attain. The more deeply the reader enters into the authentic experience of the poem, the more the poem reveals. When Kikaku writes,

In the Emperor's bed,
the smell of burnt mosquitoes,
and erotic whispers

we must realize first that the burning of mosquitoes clears the air for erotic play; then we may wonder whether the "smell of burnt mosquitoes" might become a kind of erotic incense for the Emperor, a stimulant for his lust. Thus, lust, love, and death are joined in primal experience. Is there a buried needle in this verse? Does Kikaku intend for us to think critically of a decadent emperor? And what does that reveal about ourselves? Revealing the relationship between these mundane activities shakes up our polite perceptions like a Zen slap in the face—a call to awaken to what actually is.

Haiku, sprung free from the opening lines of predominantly humorous "linked verse" (renga) created by multiple anchors, began to articulate aesthetic qualities such as a sense of beautiful aloneness, sabishisa, and restrained elegance, furyu.

Bashō brought to haiku "the Way of Elegance" (fuga-no-michi), deepened its Zen influence, and approached poetry itself as a way of life (kadō, the way of poetry) in the belief that poetry could be a source of enlightenment. "Achieve enlightenment, then return to this world of ordinary humanity," he advised. And, "Do not follow in the footsteps of the old masters, but seek what they sought." His "way of elegance" did not include the mere trappings associated with elegance; he sought the authentic vision of "the ancients."

Born into a samurai family prominent among nobility, Bashō rejected that world and became a wanderer, studying Zen, history, and classical Chinese poetry, living in apparently blissful poverty under a modest patronage and from donations by his many students. In addition to being the supreme artist of haiku and renga, Bashō wrote haibun, brief prose-and-poetry travelogues like Narrow Road to the Interior, that are absolutely nonpareil in the literature of the world.

If Bashō is the great river of haiku, Buson and Issa are primary tributaries. If Bashō lived and advocated a life of solitary poverty and travel, Buson (1715–1783), by contrast, appears to have been a devoted family man and a successful painter. While he "sought what Bashō sought," he did not share his master's rigorous Zen discipline nor his deep classicism. Buson's major contribution to haiku is his complexity and his painter's eye. Whereas Bashō taught, "Master technique, then forget it," Buson's technique is less transparent, his poems more consciously composed. He is a poet of enhanced sensibility and evocation.

Issa (1762–1826) wrote poetry that is especially remarkable considering the life of the poet. His mother died while he was an infant, and his stepmother was a plague upon his soul until he left home at fourteen. He lived in poverty for twenty years before returning for his father's death in 1801. Although he was named principle heir in his father's will, his stepmother and half brother conspired successfully to keep Issa from the property for thirteen more years. He would eventually write:

My dear old village,
every memory of home
pierces like a thorn

When he finally returned from Edo (Tokyo), he married a young village woman, but all five of their children died, as did his wife of ten years. And his house burned down. He lived four more years, married again, and finally had an heir, a baby girl—born shortly after his death.

Neither as at ease as Bashō nor as composed as Buson, Issa wrote a more personal poetry, moving steadily into a Pure Land Buddhist philosophy that expressed true devotion without getting caught up in the snares of mere religious dogmatism. Sometimes humorous or sarcastic, often of uneven quality, his poems are prized for their remarkably compassionate and poignant insight. Following the death of one of his children, he wrote

This world of dew
is only a world of dew—
and yet

And the poem is large enough—and sufficiently particular—to say it all. As is so often the case, the most important part is that which is left unstated.

The great age of haiku spans only a little over a hundred years, and yet its poetry is a river that continues to flow. In our own age and language, wonderful haiku have been written by poets as diverse as Gary Snyder, Richard Wright, Lew Welch, and Richard Wilbur, to name a few.

Bashō is neither the beginning nor the end. Re-encountering these poems and translating them has been, like the leap of Bashō's famous frog, a plunge into the sound of water, each brief poem expanding in ever-widening ripples.

Sam Hamill
Port Townsend, Washington

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Haiku by Basho

    Disappointed the book did not contain one of Basho's famous Haiku's.
    "In a world of one color,
    The sound of wind."
    This is one of my favorites. The book was too limited.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)