Hass’ Issa

I imagine to readers accustomed to the serious, if not somber, tone of most haiku, Issa’s irreverent sense of humor must come as a delightful surprise. Several of the haiku that Hass offers have such a comic effect. Two of my favorite are:

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes


No doubt about it,
the mountain cuckoo

is a crybaby.

There are others that seem to have a more serious intent, but accomplish that effect through humor:

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.

Although all three sections include excerpts from prose passages, the section on Issa has more than the other sections do. As I’ve said before, I’m not too fond of prose poems, but for some reason, I find the idea of ending a long prose passage with a haiku rather satisfying:

It is a commonplace of life that the greatest pleasure issues ultimately in the greatest grief. Yet why”why is it that this child of mine, who has not tasted half the pleasures that the world has to offer, who ought, by rights, to be as fresh and green as the vigorous young needles of the everlasting pine ” why must she lie here on her deathbed, swollen with blisters, caught in the loathsome clutches of the vile god of smallpox. Being, as I am, her father, I can scarcely bear to watch her withering away”a little more each day” like some pure, untainted blossom that is ravished by the sudden onslaught of mud and rain.

After two or three days, however, her blisters dried up and the scabs began to fall away ” like a hard crust of dirt that has been softened by melting snow. In our joy we made what we call a “priest in a straw robe.” We poured hot wine ceremoniously over his body, and packed him and the god of smallpox off together. Yet our hopes proved in vain. She grew weaker and weaker and finally, on the twenty-first of June, as the morning glories were just closing their flowers, she closed her eyes forever. Her mother embraced the cold body and cried bitterly. For myself, I knew well it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return and blossoms that are scattered are gone beyond recall. Yet try as I would, I could not, simply could not, cut the binding cord of human love.

The World of dew
is the world of dew
And yet, and yet

I doubt that I would have found this particular haiku moving if I had read it in the context of page after page of haiku, but in this context it is heart-breaking.

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