This world of dew
is yes, a world of dew
and yet …
~ Issa Kobayashi
This haiku by the renowned Japanese poet, Issa Kobayashi (1763-1828) is his most famous and you can see why. In three short lines, Issa summarizes all of life – yours and mine, how since the beginning of time, our life is full of “dew”, yet riddled with sorrow. The haiku also demonstrates the need for the arts, whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a novel or in this case, poetry – to express our human emotions about questions that have no answers (the meaning of life, the problem of suffering and evil and so on). Issa does not directly address these questions, but he distills for us feelings too deep for words, in a little poem that is necessarily open-ended.
Issa no doubt wrote this haiku out of his own life of poverty and personal tragedy. His one-year daughter Sato died of smallpox in 1808, as recorded in his diary. Over his lifetime he experienced the infancy death of five of his children. Moreover, he also experienced the premature death of his two wives, and the burning-down of his house. That is why this haiku is so poignant.