From burweed

by Kobayashi Issa

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
Original Language Japanese

From burweed,
such a butterfly
was born?

-- from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Haiku has such a powerful way of discovering great truth in the details of nature. It is a poetry of metaphor and surprise. Glimpse it for just a moment and you see the macrocosm reflected by the microcosm, the Eternal in the specific.

One should never be too casual or definite in interpreting the meaning of a haiku. It is like a dream; the meaning is felt, it is immediate, and it reflects something of yourself back to yourself. It resists being overly defined. But that won't stop me from suggesting one possible way of understanding this haiku... :-)


This haiku by Issa can be read as a poem of instant enlightenment. Issa is stunned to recognize that from "burweed" -- the mind, the rough, mud-hugging "weed" filled with burrs of self-thought -- such elegant, diaphanous life and freedom -- the awakened self -- can be born.

This begs the question, how can we bring the "butterfly" to birth? First, we need the Winter of spiritual practice and inturning (the gestation within the cocoon). And we must hold fast to the earth (the mud of the weed), to steadiness, to nature. All that is needed then is to simply wait for the new light of Spring to naturally awaken life, growth, transformation.

The sun is out in a cool autumn sky today. Even though it's not the season, I'm sure if I really look I'll discover a butterfly!



Recommended Books: Kobayashi Issa

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment A Box of Zen: Haiku the Poetry of Zen, Koans the Lessons of Zen, Sayings the Wisdom of Zen





From burweed