Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

Stephanie Ford

Stephanie's Haiku



Swede and Issa:
The Smiles of Haiku

When choosing authors to study for my comparison essay I knew my first pick was George Swede. Throughout the entire semester, my favorite haiku writer by far has been Swede. Until I read haiku from Kobayashi Issa, I had not found any author that I enjoyed as much as Swede. For some reason, Issa made me smile and I was suddenly interested in how his work might be different from Swede. It was at this point that I knew I had to do my comparison study on Swede and Issa.

Through studying George Swede's haiku, I have come to learn a little about his style and approach to writing haiku. His most important goal when writing a haiku is to define a specific moment for the reader, and he feels this is best done when nature is incorporated in the haiku. A common style found in many of his haiku, is relating nature with some kind of experience. For example, he might relate a reconciliation between to people with the blooming of a flower. Although he often uses humans in his haiku, he does not feel it is necessary to involve them to succinctly define a moment.

When I think about Issa's haiku, I cannot say that I really have an understanding of what motivated him to write or what his goal was in writing haiku. I know that his haiku often times make me smile and I cannot really explain why. I feel that through comparing his work to Swede's I may gain an understanding of his approach. However, my goal is to gain an understanding of what it is I enjoy about Issa's haiku.

The world of dew—
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .

xxxxx, p.xx

the graveside red roses
turning white

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.109

I chose to put these two haiku together because I knew they both talk about death. When I first read Issa's haiku, I did not know that it was about a death because it does not directly state that as the subject. This is different from Swede's, because he talks about the graveside. Something interesting to me was that both of the writers used nature in their haiku. Even more specifically, they both used a form of precipitation. This might somehow relate to tears of the family and friends.

I really like how Swede talks about the roses changing from red to white to contribute to the theme of dying. Issa's haiku is different in that he uses several forms of punctuation. I think his punctuation is necessary to help the reader get the full emotion. It would not be the same without the punctuation, and I personally like it.

Lean frog,
Don't you surrender!
Here's Issa by you.

xxxxx, p.xx

the beetle I righted
flies straight into
a cobweb

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.24

I really like these two haiku, and I think they fit well together. This specific one from Issa is one of my favorites of his. It is obvious to see that they both talk about humans helping creatures. Issa's haiku is basically in the form of a sentence. I like how it seems like he is just having a conversation with the frog, and then he even uses first person. That is what made me smile when I read it. It is almost like Issa is telling a story in this haiku. I think this haiku really shows Issa's love for the small creatures that live on the earth.

Swede's haiku is more comical. He went out of his way to save a tiny beetle, and the beetle died anyway. It makes me wonder why humans even try to save insects! I love the irony he shows in just three lines!

Old village, my home,
Everything I touch about you
Turns to a thorn!

xxxxx, p.xx

reconciliation        thistles blooming

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.85

While these two haiku convey opposite emotions, I thought they fit well together because of the way they conveyed the emotions. Issa's haiku is much more detailed. We get a negative feeling, and we know it is related to his home. When the reader reads this haiku, they begin to think about different things that might have happened in his home that made him feel that way. Again, this haiku is almost story-like.

The characteristic found in both of these haiku is that they relate an emotion to a plant. Issa relates bad memories to thorns. Swede relates the end of an argument with a blooming flower. I really like this haiku of Swede's because he uses so few words, yet it just makes me heart smile! It's a very positive haiku, that reminds us how wonderful it is to clear up an anger or arguments between people. It is such a beautiful thing to know you are at peace with the people around you.

The snow thaws—
And suddenly the whole village
Is full of children!

xxxxx, p.xx

first warm spring day
I take my shadow
for a walk

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.xx

These haiku are a good pair because they talk about changes in season and how they affects our lives. Again, Issa's haiku is kind of like a story. There is quite a bit of detail and punctuation. I get a big picture of what's going on when I read it. It almost reminds me of "Whoville" in "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas". I picture myself looking out over a village and hundreds of little children running, laughing, and playing together. There are probably a few little spots of snow on the ground that are still in the process of melting.

Swede's haiku is unique because of the form. As each line is indented a little more, it reminds me of steps. I like the quiet solitary feeling about this haiku. It makes me wish I were the one going on the walk.

Wind of Autunm!
And the scarlet flowers are there
That she loved to pluck!

xxxxx, p.xx

autumn evening
also nowhere to go
skittering leaf

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.67

These haiku go very well together as they talk about being alone in autumn. I think they could probably be in a rengay together. To start out, autumn is a time when things start to die and it gets a little cooler. Both haiku talk about nature (scarlet flower, skittering leaf) and those references make the reader feel alone. The flower in Issa's haiku reminds him of his daughter and how he is without her.

In Swede's haiku, I think he is relating the human to the lonely leaf skittering around. I can picture the person just pacing because there is nothing to do. I really like both of these haiku and I think they are somewhat similar. They are probably the most similar match I have looked at. The only thing I do not like is the punctuation in Issa's. This is the first haiku of his I have read where I think it would be better without the punctuation.

Through comparing a few of Kobayashi Issa's haiku with haiku of George Swede I found several differences between the two writers. I found why I like Issa's work as well.
As I compared the two writers I found the main difference to be the form of the haiku. Issa tended to use more detail in his haiku. I felt like all of the haiku I picked told a short story. I actually like this about his work. I got a good picture of what was going on. Something else that contributed to his story-like haiku was the punctuation. All of his haiku have punctuation, and most of the time I really like. I do not think his haiku would give the same meaning if they were without the punctuation. With the punctuation, some of his haiku seem to have more than one sentence. One last characteristic that contributed to this idea, was Issa's use of first person. Often times, his use of first person made it seem as if there were dialogue going on and he was involved in it. This is one of my favorite characteristics of Issa's work.

Swede is very different from Issa in this way. His haiku definitely stick to just defining one moment. Most of the time he uses few words and little to no punctuation. Swede experiments with form to add to the meaning of the haiku. I think different forms can often replace what punctuation would do for the haiku.

One last difference deals with nature. Both writers talk a lot about nature in their haiku, but I think they use different sides of nature. Issa tended to use more involvement of small creatures and animals. Swede sticks to plants, seasons, and the sky.

I really enjoy the haiku of both Kobayashi Issa and George Swede. Through comparing some of their haiku I have found some of their differences in approach and style. I also have found reasons why I enjoy reading Issa's haiku. While both of these writers are very different, their work is very good. The unique qualities about each of them make their work good. Without punctuation, Issa's haiku might not have the same effect, and without simplicity Swede's haiku would be very different.

—Stephanie Ford

©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors