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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
The Spring of My Life: And Selected Haiku
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on September 5, 2006
You might like to know the contents of the book:

*** Translator's Introduction......ix

*** The Spring of My Life......1

*** Selected Haiku......97

*** Notes......171

*** Index of First Lines......173

*** About the Translator and the Artist......181
__________ __________ __________ __________ __________ _________

Ah yes, Issa...

Issa the lonely... Issa the rejected... Issa the destitute... Issa the bereaved...

but also:

Issa the compassionate... Issa the noble... Issa the pure of heart....

Issa's childhood was marred by cruelty and rejection; he experienced great personal loss throughout his life.

Though he suffered much, he seemingly retained a noble spirit.

I found this book's content very interesting and the prose style very easy to read.

In it you will get to know the haiku poet Kobayashi Issa intimately through his own thoughts.

Much of Issa's haiku focuses on nature's small animals and insects like the turtle, the frog, the cricket, the lowly fly, etc.

He was obviously a very sensitive and compassionate human being.

Issa talks about parts of his life and we get to know his haiku very well.

I like the way the content is laid out:

In the "Spring of My Life" section, portions of Issa's life are told in short prose passages with a poem or poems following; the poems tend to highlight what was just said in each previous prose passage.
And then in the "Selected Haiku" section of the book we have only haiku with no prose.

Hamill's translations seem very good to me.

I recommend this book for getting to know the great Issa.
14 helpful votes
15 helpful votes
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on April 16, 2014
Interested in Haiku? Then this book is a must read. Since I am studying and writing Haiku myself I found this book to be invaluable. Or if you are just interested in a good poetry read then this book is for you.
1 helpful vote
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on March 3, 2011
Haiku can be enchanting, through it's brevity, weight of words, meaning, happiness, sadness, observation and so on. I am constantly reading Haiku, not from an literary academic standpoint, but for pleasure. This is also tempered by a desire to 'hear' the verse as close to the original meaning as possible. Of course that is hard to verify as a non Japanese speaker, but this book certainly has it's own voice and character... I really enjoyed it and was often deeply moved by the selected Haiku. The other positive was that the book confirms my interest and affection for Haiku.
1 helpful vote
2 helpful votes
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on March 2, 2011
I really hadn't read Issa before, although I've read a good amt. by Basho. Sam Hamill is definitely competent in his field, but ... I would have liked to see a more inclusive book. I do like Issa, too. He has more of a sense of humor than Basho ... and also seems more down to earth and in touch with nature. I did enjoy this book though.
1 helpful vote
2 helpful votes
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on January 22, 2012
I had first read Issa's Haiku in Robert Hass' "Haiku" and enjoyed him so much that I looked for a book devoted to his work. I thought Sam Hamill's Spring of My Life would be great, but I was rather disappointed. The "Spring of my Life" seemed to me to be a lengthy and listless excursion and I was rather bored with it. Then the Haiku were translated in a ponderous way. For example, Hass has:

Even with insects -
some can sing,
some can't.

But Hamill translates it:

It is true even
among this world's insects:
some sing well, some not

And the death poem from Hamill:

From birthing's washbowl
to the washbowl of the dead -
blathering nonsense!

It's better than Hamill's insect haiku, yet I prefer the Hass translation:

A bath when you're born,
a bath when you die,
how stupid.

Hamill does give the transliterations from the Japanese so you can get the poetic verse of the original and perhaps his translations are more accurate in their detail but the sparkling humor that comes through with Hass just did not seem to be there in the Hamill version.
20 helpful votes
21 helpful votes
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on September 13, 2000
I bought this book for three reasons: a pre-existing love for Issa's poetry, the picture on the front cover, and the review by Ramon Melendez. Really, I have little to add to his review since he sums up the book very nicely. I haven't even finished reading it...What I would like to write are my first impressions. It was a delight simply to hold this book in my hands: it's size and shape are unique, reflecting the uniqueness of the words and worlds inside. Those colours on the cover reflect, perhaps, the colours of Issas "canvas" as he composes beatiful poems, so visual, delicate and sensitive. This book even smelled nice - yes, it is the nicest smelling book I've ever smelled.
Sam Hamill's translations are wonderful: he (successfully) attemps to retain the intended rhythmic and visual effect in the original Japanese poetry - so very little (if anything) is lost in the translation (as far as I am aware). Comparing these translations with some others I have read, subtleties become apparent in Hamill's translations where others have left me confused and disappointed.
43 helpful votes
44 helpful votes
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on September 8, 2006
The power, the beauty of each poem comes from words erased, struck out. OR, in the minds of the greatest writers of haiku, may never have been considered.

Translator Sam Hamill has a heightened sensitivity for nuance. He 'listens' to any subtle variation of sound or meaning, and also the changes that evolve through generations. This reviewer considers him the "translator-of-choice". Wouldn't it be a joy and honor to have your own writings translated into Japanese by this man?

Hamill's thorough knowledge of the writings of the greatest authors of haiku is rich from a friendship that spans the ages. It rewards him - and his study doubtless brings occasional surprises still. Kobayishi Issa lived from 1763-1827 and in his "Song of My Life" we find travel notes interspersed with haiku. These "seventeen syllables" are interludes that expand our understanding of the author's progression of work and philosophy and bring readers deep joy.

In the next section poems are presented in English and Japanese. A wide range of subjects give the expected seasonal connections, from which I have chosen these examples:

With my folding fan

I measured the peony --

as it demanded

So many breezes

wander through my summer room:

but never enough

Before this autumn wind

even the shadows of mountains

shudder and tremble

I know everything

about the old householder,

even his shiver

Inspiration, contemplation and meditation each play a role in Issa's creative mind. He was sad about the loss of his daughter and son but wrote verses that brought laughter to other children:

The firefly departs

so quickly, so breathlessly

it leaves behind its light

A watercolor by Kaji Aso decorates the cover of "The Spring of My Life" and there are many 'haiku paintings' that speak to the meaning of Issa's words. Reviewer mcHAIKU believes the most rewarding way to read haiku is to allow its music into your soul with gratitude.
18 helpful votes
19 helpful votes
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on September 7, 2014
I like this translation very much, on the whole. The prose in particular captures the spirit and pathos of the work (particularly the heartbreaking recurring "orphan" theme that reaches its climax here with Issa's description of the tragic death of his daughter in childhood.) Hamill translates the haiku pretty strictly in accordance with the 5-7-5 tradition, and, to my ear, this leads to some occasional padding and unneeded wordiness in the verse. But the work is worthy, the presentation is beautiful, and the overall effect is powerful. A very valuable addition to anyone's haiku/haibun/Japanese form library.
1 helpful vote
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on May 5, 2000
This is one of the most beautiful books I have read. Issa's story is moving, deeply humane yet not tainted by any melodramatic tendencies. Framed in the Japanese tradition of haiku poetry his poems to his daughter are tender and moving and reveal a deep appreciation of life, beauty and simplicity.
34 helpful votes
35 helpful votes
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on January 27, 2001
Look no further, you've found it!
8 helpful votes
9 helpful votes
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