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.