Sunday, November 8, 2020



S A V E      A      T R E E

photo: Khadija Farah for The New York Times


The Spring of My Life

Once snows have melted,

the village soon overflows

with friendly children

A gust of spring wind —

unhappily — lifts the skirts

of the roof thatcher

The turnip farmer

with a turnip points the way

back to the road

Calm, indifferent

as if nothing's transpired —

the goose, the willow

Give me a homeland,

and a passionate woman,

and winter alone

With my folding fan

I measured the peony —

as it demanded

In early spring rain

the ducks that were not eaten

are quacking happily

A child has drawn

a river from snowmelt lakes

leading to my gate

As old age arrives,

considering just the day's length

can move one to tears

All alone at home,

my wife, like me, is watching

this full moon rise


Kobatashi Issa (1763-1827)

from The Spring of My Life

and Selected Haiku

translated by Sam Hamill



Nothing can go wrong with Issa, nothing.

First of all, even a bad translator can't quite knock

the Issa touch and wisdom off the tracks — somewhere

in that tangle of Japanese to American there is a light.

And no matter how miserable your life may be, or

is going to be, Issa is ready for you — more than likely

his life has been more miserable, and still he counsels

with the grasshopper, the stars, the breezes, the tears.

He's your guy. Maybe more than anyone away

from your home. Take him along. Most of his

books are lightweight, thin, pocketful, treasures.

For a translator here, we've got a good one in

Sam Hamill — poet, translator, essayist, printer,

publisher, jack of all poetry trades, and like

Issa he's dead, and also like Issa, not dead.

Hello, Sam.

[ BA ]