Oct 13 2010

Kobayashi Issa – From burweed

Published by at 9:18 am under Poetry

From burweed
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

From burweed,
such a butterfly
was born?

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

/ Photo by docentjoyce /

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!

Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

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

Kobayashi Issa, or simply Issa, is one of the 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 his fifties. When his father died, Issa had further troubles with his stepmother who prevented him from inheriting his father’s property for some time. He eventually was able to claim his inheritance, however.

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

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11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Kobayashi Issa – From burweed”

  1. from burweed « dharmarooon 13 Oct 2010 at 12:01 pm

    […] via Poetry Chaikhana Blog […]

  2. Julie Annon 13 Oct 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Dear Ivan – Thank you for the two poems this week. Just seeing the monarch butterfly image you included, after reading the haiku, conferred many blessings as my mother has just passed and I have been seeing butterflies everywhere, even around my airplane after it landed in New Mexico to go and be with her two weeks ago… and then reading Ramprasad and viewing the beautiful Kali Puja photograph lights my world and re-members my soul and many others’.
    I had forgotten it is Navaratri. Jai Sri Durga!

  3. Sunil Uniyalon 13 Oct 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Thank u, Ivan, for sharing this haiku and for such an enlightening commentary.
    With Dassehra greetings to you,

  4. nasihaon 13 Oct 2010 at 11:48 pm

    thank you Ivan
    float like a beautiful butterfly,visit a flower..
    i enjoyed it very much.

  5. simonbaghon 14 Oct 2010 at 4:01 am

    diving into ocean of the absolute unknown
    is to make way to secrets of bountiful sun

    what you ever wonder how to room in head
    emerged from sun, cradled in its cozy bed

    as cocoon turns into butterfly to soar in sky
    after death your spirit also gets wing to fly

    members of body enjoy till therein is soul
    as it departs, they decay in the grave hole

    whatever from earth finally turns into soil
    only heavenly part leaves all for next role

    if you agree not with me or my way you hate
    ask the worm in cocoon about its future fate

    whatever the worm’s reply you think include
    that is all about your fate you can conclude

    look at the process of changes like the poet
    to pick out nice images from the vague fate

    do not add to the wonders existing in mind
    lost traveler yours address you have to find

    simon baghdasarian

    Hi Ivan
    yours devotee simonbagh.

  6. Aparrnaon 15 Oct 2010 at 3:48 am

    Ah yes Haiku……

    Yesterday it worked
    Today it is not working
    Windows is like that

    So is life!!! 😉 ;p

  7. Val Leventhalon 15 Oct 2010 at 6:20 am

    A Haiku of mine that led to a song:

    OF YOU

    I’ve been a fan of the form for a long time; initially I was taught that Haiku was 17 syllables, but later I learned that there is more than one form. Mine may not be correct, but the intention is true.



  8. Ivan M. Grangeron 15 Oct 2010 at 7:36 am


    Yesterday it worked
    Today it it is not working
    Today is wide open

    (A new perspective… from a Mac user 🙂

  9. Dorothy Matthewson 25 Mar 2021 at 8:27 pm

    I am so thankful for this post. It was initiated for me by a friend who sent Issa’s poem entwined in an exquisitely calligraphed haiga. asking whether it was a haiku. I’ve included a link to this page in my response to her.

  10. Ela Zehnon 26 Mar 2021 at 8:43 am

    Godly knowledge is
    an ocean,

    We go in depth of the
    knowledge and become an
    embodiment of experience.

  11. Elaon 31 Mar 2021 at 11:04 am

    Understanding the divine knowledge makes us
    embodiment of experience of remembrance
    we remain in yoga even while doing work

    Supreme Soul and we souls reside in brahmlok
    Sanyasi do yoga with the brahm element
    The yoga of sanyasi is physical

    We don’t chant any mantra
    Godly Knowledge connects us with the Supreme Spirit
    Yoga with the Supreme Soul purifies us

    Remembrance keeps us free from any
    bondages of good or bad influences from outside
    we live in this very world like a lotus in the mud.

    Hi Ivan,

    Thanks for poetry at
    Chaikhana, it’s a favorite
    cup of tea for all

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