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The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets) Paperback – August 1, 1995

4.8 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An exquisite collection of the finest works of three distinct masters of the haiku tradition: Matsuo Basho (the ascetic and seeker), Yosa Buson (the artist), and Kobayashi Issa (the humanist).

The editor, Robert Hass, United States poet laureate, is the author of several books of poetry including Human Wishes as well as a book of criticism Twentieth Century Pleasures, for which he received The National Book Critics Circle Award. The book is one of the larger series of poetry collections, Essential Poets Series published by Ecco Press.

From Publishers Weekly

Hass ( Human Wishes ) defers to the complex syntactical gaps that separate the Japanese and English languages, calling his translations "versions." Here he presents three masters of the haiku form: Basho (1644-1694), the haiku poet most familiar to English readers; Buson (1716-1783), a visually oriented writer renowned in his time as a painter; and Issa (1763-1827), whose work is most poignant when he utilizes his ironic wit. Hass's obsessions, as evidenced by his other work, can be fitted under two rubrics, grief and pleasure, and he chooses a fair number of haiku to represent these poles. Yet the poems that merely observe nature's cyphers are most absorbing. Hass's signature is apparent in the mixture of sensual and temporal imagery: "The jars of octopus-- / brief dreams / under the summer moon" (Basho). Buson's images settle in the mind for days with their lush, unexpected vistas: "A field of mustard, / no whale in sight, / the sea darkening." Yet, surprisingly, it is Issa's haiku which may appeal most to Western readers. His benignly sardonic grasp of experience resonates with our late 20th-century cynicism: "New Year's Day-- / everything is in blossom! / I feel about average." Or: "I'm going out, / flies, so relax, / make love." Hass also includes samplings of each poet's prose, giving a deeper notion of their individual world views and aesthetics. Richly annotated, with illuminating essays on the poets and Japanese poetics, this anthology significantly broadens the pleasure of haiku for anyone unable to read them in the original.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: The Ecco Press; 2012 ed. edition (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0880013516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0880013512
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I always find myself returning to this lovely collection
of haiku by Basho, Buson and Issa.
The translations capture both the distinctive styles of
the masters as well as the oft-mentioned "aha moment".
I have only to turn a few pages to feel inspiration,
motivation, exaltation and profound gratitude for these
brief jewels. How they transcend time and place!
Hass helpfully provides a wonderful introduction and
notes for these exquisitely crafted haiku. A recommended
book for the novice and advanced reader/writer/lover
of haiku.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a collection of haiku by three great Japanese masters- Basho, Buson and Issa who all lived between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries.
The book is divided into four sections, one on each master, followed by a section containing Basho's thoughts on haiku in general. Each of the first three sections starts with a brief but good introduction to the master followed by the translations of his haiku. Each section concludes with other pieces of writing (prose and haiku) by the poet. This helps to give a picture of the person behind the poem and some idea of the life and times that the poet lived in. Not being familiar with life in Japan from a few centuries ago, I found this very helpful in getting a better understanding of the context in which the poems are set.
There are notes at the back which explain some of the nuances and anything significant one has to know about certain Haiku. It helps to keep this in mind when reading the haiku. The fourth section in the book "Basho on Poetry" is a joy to read, and captures the spirit of Haiku. Each sentence here is worth preserving! There is also a list of books for further reading which I found useful.
Overall, this book is a good addition to the library, whether one is interested in writing Haiku or not.
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Format: Paperback
This book features versions of about one hundred poems by each of three masters in haiku tradition, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1783), and Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827). The introduction tells us that according to Japanese literary criticism, these three men represent three types of the poet. Basho is seen as the ascetic and seeker, Buson the artist, and Issa the humanist. The differences in each poet's style can be seen at a glance. This book contains interesting short biographies of each of the men as well as some of their prose and notes on the poems. There are a few interesting black and white illustrations throughout the book including some by Yosa Buson himself. The introduction by Robert Hass is a superb introduction to haiku itself.
These beautiful three line poems, located in Nature with their implied Buddhist reflection are each a meditation, a centering, and a crystalline moment of realization. Reading them has a way of bringing about calm and peace within the reader. The symbolism of the seasons and the Japanese habit of mind blend together in these poems to create an alchemy of reflection that is unsurpassed in literature. The exquisite skill of these three masters make their subject matter seem completely organic, without artifice. Each poem contains a unique "Ah!" experience because they pierce directly to the soul, activating the human capacity for seeing with a still mind and an observing heart.
If you are new to haiku this is a wonderful compendium of the best of the genre. If you are already a lover of haiku this book is a delightfully compact, essential package, a real treasure you are sure to enjoy again and again.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book four or maybe five years ago and it has never left me since. It's on my bedside table. Wherever and whenever I travel, this book accompanies me. Every time I read any of the haiku, I find something new - not as yet discovered - uplifting - in each.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book over ten years ago on the recommendation of a professor. At the time, I was translating haiku from Japanese, and he suggested I take a look at Robert Hass' style of translating. It was timely advice for a fledgling translator. Hass' haiku renderings sometimes stray a little too much from the original meanings to satisfy the needs of scholars, but they are always clear, always graceful, and- after ten years of continually returning to the book- always fresh. I think part of the success of these translations comes from their colloquial language. There is nothing awkward about them, nothing in the language to draw attention to it as a translation. And aren't the best translations like that?-- unobtrusive, inconspicuous, almost like dopplegangers of the original. I believe so, and I believe these translations will have quite a long shelf life.
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Format: Paperback
Hello, lover of Haiku and all things Japanese here. The main reason I reduced this rating to 4 stars is the fact that there are no Romaji translations of the poems in this collection. For example, in the collection, The Haiku Handbook -25th Anniversary Edition: How to Write, Teach, and Appreciate Haiku, there Romaji translations for every Haiku. If you do not know what Romaji is, it is the phonetic translation of the actual Japanese into the Western alphabet.

For example, the famous frog Haiku from Basho is listed in the aforementioned title:
furuike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

and then translated to the side:
old pond...
a frog leaps in
water's sound

I really believe that every true Haiku collection should include the Romaji so that Westerners can say the poem in the native Japanese. Much like Baudelaire collections that include the French and English both (or Pablo Neruda in both English and Spanish). There is something magical about reading aloud Haiku in Japanese, even if you don't understand the words.

The only other omission I felt was the exclusion of Masaoka Shiki. There are four great Haiku authors (according to most experts and to the Japanese in general), and Shiki is actually my personal favorite of the great four. Basho is understandably the most prominent, but I have read several other texts on Haiku that list Buson, Issa, and Shiki as the next greatest.

This is a thorough and well researched text focused on the three major classical Haiku authors: Basho, Buson, and Issa. There are many included Haiku from each of these celebrated authors.
Read more ›
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