Book Review – The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa

The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa edited by Robert Hass

For those looking for an introduction to Haiku, for those who love poetry, or for those who simply are looking for something new, try Robert Haas’s wondrous book, The Essential Haiku. Haas serves as editor and translator for a collection of haiku from three of Japan’s masters: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa. These small poems are full of life, wisdom, and humor.

Matsuo Basho is perhaps the best known of the trio of masters. His Narrow Road to the Far North, considered his masterpiece, centers on one man’s solitary journey. There is, perhaps, no better poem about the feeling of longing often found in moments of solitude than this one of Basho’s:

         Even in Kyoto—
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.

Yosa Buson, born some twenty years after Basho’s death, is often contrasted against Basho. Where Basho is a seeker, Buson is a painter. His poems capture still moments:

       Morning breeze,
the caterpillar’s hair.

Kobayashi Issa also writes about insects with humor and humanity in some of my favorite haiku:

       Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house


          Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
But slowly, slowly.

And another:

          Don’t kill that fly!
Look—it’s wringing its hands,
Wringing its feet.

And finally:

          Even with insects—
Some can sing,
Some can’t.

And now, I had better end this review before I excerpt the entire book and rob you, gentle reader, of the pleasure of discovering your own favorites. If you find one, post it in the comments.

Even better, I hope that you’ll now be inspired to not only read these wonderful haiku masters, but to write your own small poems. This month, in honor of the season and National Poetry Month, we invite you to send in your original haiku about the people and places you love in Chatham County. Click here for more information about this event or to submit your work.


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