Issa’s Humble Beauty

I just finished preparing our Federal and Oregon taxes, so I haven't had much time for indulging my taste for poetry, or for much of anything else for that matter. But the whole week hasn't been wasted.

I did receive four haiku books book from Powell's on Tuesday, though two of the four were sale-priced books I bought in order to reach the minimum $50 to qualify for free shipping.

While taking breaks from doing taxes, I've actually grown quite fond of one of these sale books, Inch by Inch: 45 Haiku by Issa, translated by Nanao Sakaki. Perhaps it's merely that I needed Issa's humor to add perspective to the thought of paying an additional $1,100 in Federal taxes, though I'm beginning to suspect it is more than that. I think I may really be falling in love with his light poetic style, despite the fact that I generally disdain what is commonly known as "light poetry."

However, even in his more serious poems, Issa retains a unique perspective, though I'm not sure I realized this until I read:

The Amanita muscaria
can kill you"
Sure, what a beauty!

It's hard to deny the beauty of this dramatic mushroom, but a little research reveals it's a powerful hallucinogenic which sometimes proves fatal, a heavy price to pay even for such beauty. If Issa had begun the poem "Sure, what a beauty!" rather than ending with it, I doubt I would have even noticed it. But, as written, it reveals a real mastery of words.

A rather different definition of "beauty" can be found in Issa's:

Such a beauty "
from the milkweed
a butterfly is born.

We might think such a beautiful insect could only thrive on roses or an equally elegant flower, not on the humble milkweed plant. Thankfully, such beauty is as much a part of our everyday life as we allow it to be, but it sometimes takes a genius from humble beginnings to remind us of that truth.

4 thoughts on “Issa’s Humble Beauty

  1. Dear Mother of God, that’s the most gorgeous red-capped mushroom I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautiful I almost WANT to eat it! And that butterfly below is not far behind. It belongs among the terrific photos in a book on “butterfly gardens” that I just returned to the library. I forgot to take notes, so I can’t give the author credit. But you can give yourself some. I really love that mushroom, I’m going to go look at it some more. You know, I know a lot of civilized people like haikus, but I’ve never met a haiku that I liked. I guess that means half the world can just barely tolerate me, and the other half, as we all know, have never heard of one.

  2. Unfortunately I can’t claim credit for these particular photos, but I found them through google when I wondered what the poems were referring to. I I should have found a way to credit them in the copy.

    I’ve now provided a link to the article where the butterfly picture came from, but I didn’t link to the site where the mushroom picture came from because it’s apparently providing “supervised trips.” It’s easy enough to find it if you want to search using Google Images, though.

  3. I just wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your recent haiku reading. It’s reminded me how when my sixth grade english teacher assigned us to illustrate and recite a poem for class, I negotiated a modified assignment involving twenty haiku (mainly Basho and Buson). I thought I owned the Hass book, but couldn’t find it when I searched my shelves. I’ll definitely be picking it up soon. Thanks for the reminder and the lovely pairing of poetry with pictures.

What do you think?