Friday, June 29, 2012

親のない雀 (Issa's rough life).

On Market Street this afternoon I saw a little sparrow, who presumably was looking for somewhere to enjoy a morsel that he had in his beak, repeatedly try to fly through a glass wall before giving up and winging goofily down the street. A bit later I saw him again, just standing there, looking confused. So I said to him,
我と来て 遊べや 親のない雀
ware to kite asobe ya oya no nai suzume
come and play with me, orphan sparrow
—which amused me because it's the poem (by Issa) that we're currently working on in shuuji. What satisfaction, to have an à propos haiku on hand for such occasions! すごく有名な句だそうです。(In shuuji we're writing the poem on tanzaku, with some interesting hentaigana: 我と来天 遊へ矢 親能ない雀.)

Haiku and Issa expert David G. Lanoue informs us that Issa wrote this poem in a journal in his early fifties, recounting an incident that happened when he was six. He revised it slightly five years later, changing only the form of asobu, "to play": 我と来て遊ぶや ("coming to play with me") in 1814 and then 我と来て遊べや ("come and play with me") in 1819. Apparently the command form is more popular now, but after a while it does start to sound a little stalky—until we realize that Issa himself was a kind of oya no nai suzume. His mother died when he was three, other kids mocked and ostracized him for being motherless, and then the grandmother he'd been living with died when he was fourteen, and then he didn't get along with his father's new family and at fifteen was kicked out to Toukyou to find work. (In later life he married three times, all his children died, he battled his stepmother for his inheritance, he fell into debt, and his house burned down. Pretty emo guy, all around.)

Looks like Issa wrote quite a few more 句 about sparrows and broken families:

(all below are from Lanoue's excellent Issa Archive, searched thusly)

yûgure ya oya nashi suzume nanto naku
how the orphan sparrow

mutsumajiki futaoya mochishi suzume kana
living in harmony—
the sparrow has
both parents!

nake yo nake yo oya [na]shi suzume otonashiki
sing, sing!
orphan sparrow...
so quiet

yûgure to ya suzume no mamako matsu ni naku
evening falls—
a stepchild sparrow
cries in the pine

oya suzume ko suzume yama mo isamu zo yo
parent sparrows
baby sparrows...
a happy mountain

suzumego ya oya no ken[ka] wo shiranu kao
baby sparrow—
his face unaware
of his parents' fights

kawaru-gawaru su no ban shitari oya suzume
taking turns
guarding the nest...
parent sparrows

suzumego wo asobasete oku tatami kana
the baby sparrow
is allowed to play...
tatami mat

oya no nai hitotsu suzume no futori keri
the lone orphan sparrow
and plump

mura suzume sara ni mamako wa nakari keri
flock of sparrows—
and not one of them
a stepchild

shonbori to suzume ni sae mo mamako kana
even among sparrows
a stepchild

giri no aru ko wo yobaru ka yo yû suzume
are you calling
for your stepchild?
evening sparrow
Interesting that he usually uses ままこ or ままっこ for "stepchild" but also uses 義理のある子, "debt/obligation child". Issa also wrote some poems about stunted growth in plants trapped in the shade of larger things. (One of them Lanoue mentions, in the shadow of 鬼婆山 "(W)itch Mountain", I'd love to find, but no luck so far.) I think that's the essence of haiku: a moment that's superficially simple but expresses larger themes (or deeper truths). Still waters that run deep.
takegire de tenarai [wo] suru mamako kana
with a bamboo splinter
practicing calligraphy...
the stepchild

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