to the small poem and the quiet voice within

issa | yatoro kobayashi


Whenever I come
To see the ocean
There is my mother’s
Beloved face.

At long last I made up my mind to travel north this year-to the northernmost part of Japan—to get more experience in writing haiku. No sooner had I slung my beggar’s bag round my neck and flung my little bundle over my shoulder than I noticed, to my great surprise, that my shadow was the very image of Saigyo, the famous poet-priest of times gone by. However, I was much ashamed when I reflected on how different was his mind from mine:—his, as white and pure as snow, and mine, as black as coal. I left my home on the sixteenth day of April, and had made my way about two or three miles along the road with the help of a stick, when I was arrested by a sudden thought: I was already near the peak of sixty, and as the moon sinks finally behind the western hills, so too my life was now in its decline. Once I had passed the northern checking station of Shirakawa, the possibility of my ever seeing home again seemed slight indeed. The voice of a rooster rang out from the roof tops; I fancied he was calling out to me to stop. And it seemed as though the gentle wind that was rippling through the growing wheat was waving to me to come back. So I finally rested my aching legs at the base of a tree, and looked back along that I had come from. It seemed as if my village of Kashiwabara lay just beyond that hill—and just beneath that cloud. It was so hard to leave that I wrote:

I am trying not to
But I just can’t help
Seeing and thinking
Of my village home.

[from: The Year of My Life (Oraga Haru ) by Issa (Yatarō Kobayashi), An autobiography in haibun—a mixed form of haiku and prose, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa, University of California Press, 1971.]


  1. Henry Denander

    Yes, this is something very special, thanks for letting me read it. I just ordered “Oraga Haru. The Year of my Life. A translation … by Nobuyuki Yuasa”, a used 1960 copy. I didn’t know about Issa before I started to read this wonderful blog. THANKS. /Hank

  2. Mike Koehler

    When the leaves fall, many of us take to the road. Maybe its the geese, or the west wind, or the song of the seasons. Loved Issa. Mike

  3. Don Wentworth

    Norbert, another beauty of a post, many thanks. Always nice to have my Issa jones addressed.


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