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Essential Haiku Volume 20 [Paperback]

Robert Hass
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 15 1995 Essential Haiku (Book 20)

American readers have been fascinated, since their exposure to Japanese culture late in the nineteenth century, with the brief Japanese poem called the hokku or haiku. The seventeen-syllable form is rooted in a Japanese tradition of close observation of nature, of making poetry from subtle suggestion. Infused by its great practitioners with the spirit of Zen Buddhism, the haiku has served as an example of the power of direct observation to the first generation of American modernist poets like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and also as an example of spontaneity and Zen alertness to the new poets of the 1950's.

This definite collection brings together in fresh translations by an American poet the essential poems of the three greatest masters: Matsuo Basho in the seventeenth century; Yosa Buson in the eighteenth century; and Kobayashi Issa in the early nineteenth century. Robert Haas has written a lively and informed introduction, provided brief examples by each poet of their work in the halibun, or poetic prose form, and included informal notes to the poems. This is a useful and inspiring addition to The Essential Poets series.

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From Amazon

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 the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Masters in the Haiku Tradition April 7 2003
By Terrie
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A good book to add to any poetry collection Dec 20 2001
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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5.0 out of 5 stars "Children imitating cormorants/ Nov. 1 2000
are even more wonderful/than cormorants" (Issa)
Not being a speaker/reader of japanese, I can't vouch for the fidelity or accuracy of the translations, but I will say this: they are wonderfully true to the essence of haiku, and if you are possessed of a temperament which gets off on this sort of thing, this book will find a happy place in your life (my own copy resides in the bathroom). The biographical pieces and the excerpts from the respective poets' prose works which bookend the 3 haiku selections will provide an affable sense of place and context for the reader unfamiliar with Asian literature, and Hass' simultaneoous understanding of/enthusiasm for his subject matter, and his empathy with the mores and wherefores of the contemporary Occidental reader, are on par with Paul Reps' "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" (not to mention John Cage's "Indeterminacy"!)
If you can forget their age for long enough to read through them a few times, these poems might remind you that everything starts in the banality of things around us, which is really never very banal at all. What keeps us from really looking around ourselves IS ourselves. Everything else is just mosquitoes, grass, wind, tables, the moon, etc. And that is the very simple secret of mind and matter. But hey, come to your own conclusions -- I'm no Zen master, and the only even remotely Zen aspect of this review is that it is now over.
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5.0 out of 5 stars hai- kudos April 7 2003
By bil
The most excellent collection of haiku... how could it not be. I was overwhelmed by the simplicity of observations of these 3 great masters. My favorite being Buson... not sure why, but I seemed to relate more to his way of expressing, his choice of words, his life and personality.
Writing haiku becomes more meaningful and natural after bathing myself in this collection. The biographies helped me to understand the point of view of the writers in some cases. The additional info in the back helped me to understand the word choices, translation, and the art of haiku.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Keep a Copy at Work and at Home May 26 2003
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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