Lovers of haiku will rejoice at the arrival of this book, the first complete translation of the collected haiku of Yosa Buson, originally published in 1784 by his disciples to commemorate the first anniversary of his death. The volume contains 868 of Buson’s haiku, divided into Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter sections, rendered into English with obvious care and devotion by the distinguished poets and translators W. S. Merwin and Takako Lento.
While Merwin has long been considered one of America’s most famous poets, less well known is his enduring interest in and association with Zen Buddhism. It could be argued that this Zen influence plays out vividly in his ability to render Buson for a contemporary audience:
How lucky I am
to hear the bush warbler sing
among cherry blossoms
on the mountain
While other haiku poets are more revered in the West—Basho offers more drama, Issa more irony and wit—Buson reveals to us that ordinary life is aglow with a quiet significance all its own. Reading these poems creates the impression that Buson perceived the world in haiku: it was his way of knowing himself and his environment.
Even with the brazier
close to my feet
it is still far from the heart of me
Buson offers us observations on seasons and landscapes until we feel as though we live inside of him. Through Buson we realize what haiku is best at expressing—this moment’s experience, bare facts, simple observations, elegant statements of “thus-ness.”
This is happiness
crossing the stream in summer
carrying my straw sandals