I- A Letter to Issa-Haiku Master..

Dear Issa,

Something tells me, that if we met in person, we wouldn’t need words. That our eyes would meet, sparking an understanding transcending language. Indeed, that is my hope.

However, that meeting has to wait.

This leaves us relying on the frailty of the written word, communicating across differences in language, culture, gender and time. While these differences are challenging, they’re not insurmountable when we walk hand-in-hand appreciating difference while also finding common ground. Through mutual respect and patience, I suspect our words will somehow translate themselves, like birds interpreting each others’ song.

I am currently writing letters to dead poets. After coming across your haiku, I decided to write to you. You suffered so much and yet you expressed such an incredible appreciation of life as well as an understanding of something intangible which defies words. Indeed, must we endure extreme suffering to gain that heightened sense of perception, which peers straight through the lines and beyond? Something tells me I already know the answer.

You and I are fellow travellers. You travelled throughout Japan writing Haiku as you went and teaching others. In 1992, I donned my backpack and flew to Europe, staying there for around 9 months. Much of that time, I lived in Heidelberg with a German family. However, I also travelled through Paris, Berlin, London Amsterdam, Florence, Basil and many cities in between. While there can be great freedom being a rolling stone gathering no moss, there can also be free-fall.

You’d be surprised how people travel these days. I have absolutely no idea how to explain Skype to someone who lived so long ago. However, in what must seem like something of a dream, you can see and talk to people in other places. So when you travel, you no longer have that same acute sense of isolation and detachment and there’s always the umbilical cord tying you back home.  These technical advances in communication have made such a difference. When I went to Europe, it was very expensive to telephone home and the Internet and email didn’t exist. So, we wrote letters, no doubt very similar to how you communicated back in your day. These days, letter writing is almost a forgotten art.

Travelling without a cost-effective means of staying in touch, meant that you had to stand on your own two feet and was a challenging test of endurance. I went from university where I knew so many people, to being a lone traveller. Periods of solitude were incredibly difficult, especially with no one knowing me, my history or where I was from. There was such a pining ache and I was so homesick. Even just a week into my travels, I burst into tears at Heidelberg train station and wanted to go home. Yet, I also had my pride. I am so pleased I stuck it out because through immersing myself in all these foreign countries, their language, people and culture, I flew beyond my nest and explored the world. Of course, the sky was filled with dangers, especially for such a little bird. Yet, there was also the view, the sensation of freedom and an appreciation of all that is “home”. I also made life-long friends. After all, living with a family and staying in one place, I found community. That’s still incredibly important to me!

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling, is reveling in foreign cultures, people and places, immersing ourselves in a kaleidoscope of difference. Indeed, shunning conformity, the traveller actually seeks out and embraces difference. Yet, while being the lone stranger wandering through strange cities and towns, we can be the outsider, the observer, peering in through a crack in the wall. Loneliness, solitude and homesickness, can be the traveller’s lot. Yet, being away from home and its expectations and responsibilities, liberates us as well. Party! Party! Party!  Nothing like a holiday romance either!

Anyway, like English poet, Ted Hughes, I only met you recently and am new to the form of Haiku. While there are people who know you and your Haiku, inside out, I am keen to learn.

Recently, my son reintroduced me to Haiku when he had to write them for school. So, we talked about Haiku over dinner and even wrote a couple.

Being Summer here yet Winter in the Northern hemisphere, mine went:

Eternal Summer

Sunbaking on the beach

Snow is falling.

The rest of the family found my combination of snow and the beach too random and my husband joked:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Look! There’s a kookaburra!

-Geoff.

Although it’s not strictly a Haiku, it had the family in hysterics!

Then our son came up with:

Roses can’t be blue.

Violets come in all colours.

But then there is you.

-Mr J.

Through these conversations, I came across your Haiku about a humble snail climbing Mt Fuji:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

-Issa

Issa-snail

Wow! I related to this Haiku so intensely and couldn’t help wondering, if a tiny snail could make it up Mt Fuji, so could I…

Ever since I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves, I’ve felt compelled to climb up a mountain. It’s like the mountains are calling me, luring me up their steep and rocky crevices like the call of the wild. However, just because I have a disability, that doesn’t mean I can suddenly climb Mt Everest. I know that probably doesn’t make sense but it seems so many people facing series hurdles, go and climb mountains. Everest is way beyond me!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

However, being quite the lateral thinker, I skied down the mountain instead, in effect, turning my mountain around. That was my personal triumph!

By the way, did you know that when you turn a mountain upside down, you get a smile. Well, it works on paper!

Not so easy in real life. Before I’d even left the snow, I had the makings of a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia. Tests showed that I had active fibrosis in my lungs and I needed to have chemo. This was right before Christmas 2014, so I had chemo for Christmas! However, that was the best present I’ve ever had. It saved my life and gave me back to my family. That’s all that really matters now. That we’re all still here!

Getting back to your Haiku, I was so moved by it, that I shared it with my family. I particularly wanted the kids to realise that even huge mountain peaks can be conquered when you take them slowly one step at a time.

I thought you’d be intrigued by my daughter’s reply:

“How does the snail climb Mt Fuji if there’s snow? It wouldn’t stick!”

She’s very good at asking the tough questions!

Does Mt Fuji have snow all year round? Mind you, given the crowds climbing to the summit during climbing season these days, the snail could probably hitch a ride, although those very same feet could easily means its demise. That said, I know hitching a ride wasn’t what you had in mind…cheating!

Climbing straight up metaphorical mountains is something you know a lot about. You have certainly experienced much anguish! When you were 3 years old, your mother died and your father remarried. In 1814, aged 52 you married Kiku. However, joy was short-lived. Two years later, your son, Sentarô, was born, dying almost four weeks later. Two years later, your daughter, Sato, was born. However, she tragically died when she was just over a year old from smallpox.  A year later, your second son, Ishitarô, is born. However, tragedy continued when Ishitarô suffocated while bundled on his mother’s back. He was only a few months old. In 1822, your third son, Konzaburô, was born. In 1823, your wife died and Konzaburô died in December. In 1824, aged 62, you married Yuki, a samurai’s daughter but you soon divorced. Then, you had a stroke, losing his power of speech for a while. Indeed, you wrote:

how irritating!
the wild geese freely
call their friends

-Issa

In 1826, aged 64, you married Yao but a year later, a fire sweeps through your village, destroying your home. How awful!

After enduring so much, on 5th January, 1828, you died of a stroke.

You experienced anguish on top of anguish and yet you went on, finding beauty in the infinitesimal details in nature:

Don’t weep, insects –
Lovers, stars themselves,
Must part.

-Issa

Was that what kept you going? Or, do you even know?

So many us are desperately wanting to know!

I hope that you have found happiness and peace where you are now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Featured Image: Issa’s portrait drawn by Muramatsu Shunpo 1772-1858 (Issa Memorial Hall, Shinano, Nagano, Japan) Photo By Yoshi Canopus – Own work (My own photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=768109

7 thoughts on “I- A Letter to Issa-Haiku Master..

  1. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Derrick. It has definitely grown wings and taken off. It’s a real relief but very demanding. Somehow, I’m getting there. Take care xx Rowena

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  5. EverydayScribe

    It is amazing how so few words can have such a profound effect on someone. I love the idea of writing to poets and how you use your letter to not only reflect on your life experiences, but also reflect on the poet’s. Words are so powerful!

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