Famous Haikus

Some of the most famous haikus in all of Japan’s history are attributed to the three great masters of haiku; Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa. Learned by almost ever schoolchild in modern Japan, Basho’s frog haiku became instantly famous when he composed it in 1686.

Original Haiku:

zo no me no waraikaketari yamazakura

Yosa Buson

Translated into English as:

The old pond;
A frog jumps in
The sound of the water.

Yosa Buson

Many different translations exist of this one haiku because of its longstanding fame. ‘Ya’ is the cutting word that juxtaposes the two pieces of the haiku and identifies a transition. It has no specific meaning in Japanese and can be thought of as the English equivalent of “behold.” The two segments work together to provide the final word ‘oto’ with a piercing character. The poem is about the fleeting action that produced a persistent sound that, in turn, created a moment of clarity in the poet’s mind about the marvel of eternity. An important feature that allows this haiku widespread appeal is the adjective of the “old” pond and the choice of the resonance of water rather than that of the singing of frogs.

 

Original Haiku:

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Matsuo Bashō

Translated into English as:

An elephant’s eyes smile-
Mountain cherry blossoms.

Matsuo Bashō

Buson is also a great master whose hiaku is still read today. Elephants didn’t arrive in Japan until after the medieval era, however, they were regarded as one of the most sacred and mythical animals in India and China. Places such as Zozusan, or Elephant’s Head Mountain, received their names from tales that spread into Japan. Buson visited Zozusan in 1766 and was so inspired by the elephant eye-like shape of the mountain shrine that wrote the famous haiku

Kobayashi Issa is considered the last of the great masters of haiku and the many misfortunes he faced in life led him to be a strong believer in Buddhism. His work was tremendously influenced by his beliefs in Zen. The main idea in Zen-Buddhism is belief.

A sign of blessing
The snow on the quilt
From the Pure Land

Kobayashi Issa

This haiku demonstrates how simple true belief can be.There are many haiku that are known around the world, most of which was written by one of these great masters. Their simplicity and wisdom transcends centuries and captures modern audiences.

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