Illustrated Haiku: The Three Poets
First written in feudal 16th century Japan, haiku are the shortest Japanese verses. They are now written all over the world. The best of them evoke clear imagery and subtle emotion. The verses written below each of Garett’s monotypes are translations from the work of one of three haiku Japanese masters Basho, Buson , or Issa. The translations are from ‘The Essential Haiku’, The Ecco Press, Edited by Robert Hass, 1994. Most of the haiku monotypes also include small collaged calligraphy of the original Japanese by Osaka calligrapher Kozue Taki.
A loner who wandered widely in Japan, Matsuo Basho (1644-94) was self-serious to the point of grumpiness. When he was in his 30s, he abandoned the minor aristocracy for the life of an ascetic. Many of his verses reflect on his loneliness or his observation of nature, or of small objects encountered during his travels. Basho is seen today as the first, unchallenged master of the haiku craft.
Yosa Buson (1716-83) also turned away from comfortable family life to a decade of wandering in Japan. During travels in his twenties, he started to study painting and during his long pleasant bachelorhood his art was his living in Kyoto. However, he married an accomplished poet when he was 46 years old, and within ten years was a master of haiku verse, noted for its sharp visual imagery.
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), son of a prosperous farmer, studied haiku at a well-known school from age 25. Early success, an extroverted nature, and high production of poems brought him a teaching post there. However, literary quarrels drove him to abandoned settled life for a decade of traveling. Issa developed an earthy, romantic style of verse, perhaps derived from his three marriages and family strife over inherited farm land. Despite his troubles, he returned to write and, eventually, to teach his craft once more.