Kobayashi Issa

Kobayashi Issa was born Kobayashi Nobuyki near the Shinano province of Japan, in a village called Kashiwabara in 1763. His life was wrought with sadness, beginning with his mother’s untimely death, which left him at the mercy of a cruel stepmother and stepbrother when his father remarried some years later. He spent his early life in a farming community; observing nature and human interaction with the land, atmosphere and creatures surrounding, had a heavy influence on his written work.

In the year 1777, Kobayashi traveled to Tokyo to attend the Kasushika poetry school, and learn more about the art of the Haiku poem. To pay for his classes, Issa took numerous arbitrary jobs until he could afford attendance. There he was able to study under masters such as Sogan and Chikua, and when he was 28, Issa was offered a teaching position there himself. As a poet, he was drawn to minute details, and wrote with a free, varying style. Though the typical form of haiku is measured in syllabic structure and line formation of 5-7-5, he often toyed with this method, writing in patterns of 2-3-4 or other variations like 3-4-2, etc.

Unfortunately, this modern style was not well received by his superiors; the teaching position was not of long duration. Within one year, Issa was forced to look elsewhere for employment. During this time he is believed to have wandered throughout Japan, vying with his widowed stepmother for the inheritance his father had left him in1801. He finally succeeded in obtaining a portion of the property, and returning to his home village, Issa married a girl named Kiku. Their marriage was a happy one, until the couple tragically lost their two infant children, which was a sorrow that inspired many of the poet’s mournful haiku. In 1820, the Issa and Kiku lost their third and final child. Three years later, his wife also passed away. More laments and sorrowful mediations followed, especially when Issa’s family home was destroyed in the raging fire of 1827. Forced to live in a humble storehouse in his native village, the poet spent his final days in writing meditative poems and reflections. Finally succumbing to his grief, Kobayashi Issa died in 1827. Issa contributed autobiographical works besides his many haiku, and is ever immortalized in his famous evocative writings.

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