|"Noh" Tinywords Mask|
For less than the price of a coffee I have already received more enjoyment than any cup of coffee has ever brought me - and I am only a quarter way through!
David Lanoue obviously loves his subject (after all, he has translated all 10,000 Issa poems and has published over a thousand of these in his other book, "Issa's Best", as well as sharing one each day on his Issa website - also linked in my sidebar). He brings a genuine understanding of Issa and sympathy for all the aspects of his life, and an enthusiasm for his poetic output that it is positively contagious.
Reading this book has really rekindled my love of haiku. It has revived my own efforts at writing haiku: reading someone like Issa in translations such as those of Lanoue sets my brain into a sort of "haiku mode" all day, and I find myself naturally thinking and breathing in haiku throughout, and spontaneously finding those haiku moments that for so many months had been missed by me.
I'm left feeling more like this:
And Lanoue provides an excellent examplar for a haiku commentator to follow. Here is a brief exerpt, following a discussion of a series of haiku involving sparrows, of his commentary on the following:
"flying in and out
of the prison ...
The prisoners are unseen, but we feel their presence - and feel for them. Issa brilliantly juxtaposes bondage and freedom, guilt and innocence, stasis and movement, sorrow and joy, society and Nature. The baby sparrows flit easily over walls and through barred windows, but the human beings inside them know no such freedom. With deft understatement Issa intimates pathos in the scene. He says nothing overt about emotion yet gently tugs at the reader's heartstrings.
|They aren't Japanese, but these sparrows are free|
"Depending on context, English equivalents of ninjo include sympathy, kindness, humanity, and human nature ... the ability to feel sincerely for others [that] is believed to be an essential ingredient of one's humanity"
"Though Higginson claims that Issa "had a rather pessimistic view of human nature", he wrote many haiku in which human beings freely exhibit the ninjo that confirms their humanity. A quintessential example is the followingNow actually, my own reading of the poem and others like it in Lanoue's book leaves me wondering whether "the traveler" in the haiku is Issa himself, who at various stages set out to be a traveler like Basho, and elsewhere calls himself a "Cloud Wanderer". But of course that is part of the charm of haiku - the reader is free to "complete" the work in their own mind.
tabi-bito ya no sashite yuku nagare nae (405.18)
the traveler fixesIn summer rice is transplanted, stalk by stalk, from the seedling beds to flooded paddies. A traveler, walking along, notices some stalks floating loose and, in an act of spontaneous kindness, stops to stick them back into the mud so that they can grow. He receives no extrinsic reward for his impromptu field work: he will not be around when the rice is harvested, nor will the farmer even stroke his ego with a thank-you. The human feeling embodied in his simple action is utterly selfless: he replants the rice for the sake of a stranger and, just as importantly, for the sake of the rice plants themselves - a life-loving gesture that recalls the Buddhist ideal of compassion for sentient beings and, more anciently, the Taoist concept of "superior virtue."
the farmer's floating
In any case, I find this sort of commentary invigorating. It opens worlds. It's power arises from the mixture of enthusiasm and humanity in the commentator - Lanoue - who through personal study and wide reading has developed an evident love of literature, and a deep enjoyment of the works in themselves, always looking for and finding the best in his subject.
For me, not only a haiku apprentice but a haiku-commentary-apprentice, this is a model to aspire after!
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