May 21 2014

Kobayashi Issa – even poorly planted

Published by at 8:52 am under Poetry

even poorly planted
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by David G. Lanoue

even poorly planted
rice plants
slowly, slowly…green!

– from the website

/ Photo by Deboarah Austin /

Something so… healing about this haiku. Do you have the same reaction?

To me these words suggest that no matter how imperfect we imagine our circumstances — lack of education, finances, travel, guide, whatever we think might be missing that’s holding us back — still we inexorably grow green. Spirit awakens within us with utter disregard to the limiting details of our lives. And what is truly beautiful is watching the unique ways that greenness comes upon us. The story we get to share with the world is the specific way the spirit rises in us, the special path it finds around the obstacles that make up our specific lives, and how we are often strengthened by this navigation.

And while daily life itself may have its challenges and struggles, that greening process, well, it just happens. Slowly, patiently, naturally. All we have to do is let it.

Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

Japan (1763 – 1828) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Kobayashi Issa, or simply Issa, is one of Japan’s best known and appreciated haiku poets.

Issa was born in Kashiwabara, in what is now part of the Nagano Prefecture in Japan. His father was a farmer. Issa’s mother died when the boy was very young and his father soon remarried. Issa’s stepmother mistreated him and, when he was fourteen, Issa was sent to Edo (Tokyo) where he studied haiku.

Although he gained some notoriety for his poetry early on, he struggled to get by financially and had to travel and work hard until he was in his fifties.

Though Issa’s life was filled with struggles — the death of his mother at an early age, the conflicts with his stepmother, his poverty, and the death of his own children — his haiku tend to celebrate the serene joys and simple spiritual moments of life.

More poetry by Kobayashi Issa

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Kobayashi Issa – even poorly planted”

  1. Adrianon 21 May 2014 at 12:10 pm


    What rich, insightful commentary – doubly powerful because of the elegance and simplicity with which you compose a sentence.

    Well done,


  2. marrobon 21 May 2014 at 2:32 pm

    I agree with Adrian….simply elegant. And the beauty of green
    returns …a little more deeply. Thank you

  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 23 May 2014 at 5:28 am

    I love Issa’s haiku and I love your simple, insightful
    commentary, Ivan, especially your line: “spirit awakens us with utter disregard to the limiting details of our lives.”
    I am reminded of another Japanese poet’s haiku:

    Violets here and there
    in the ruins
    of my burnt house.
    In gratitude for the greening,

  4. Nealon 23 May 2014 at 6:19 am

    Thank you for this beautiful haiku and your thoughtful and lovely commentary. And here is an addition to your thought of the day: Every step in the journey is the journey. Thank you again.

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