In Focus • 6
What a 18th century Japanese poet can teach us about life.
Last week, I was listening to an interview with the poet Jane Hirshfield. She talked about her approach to writing and her belief that where there is sorrow, there will be joy. Where there is joy, there will be sorrow.
In her conversation with the host, Krista Tippett, she shared a poem by the Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828).
Issa was a Haiku master known for his tender wry humor. Much of his writing focused on small creatures like cicadas, toads, and snails. His poetic sensibilities provide quick antidotes that counter the rush and speed of life — expressing an awareness of the human condition.
I’d like to share one of his poems that Jane Hirshfield introduced me to.
On a branch
a cricket, singing.
Crickets are sensitive to water and drown easily. They breathe through their spiracles, which are the respiratory openings at the side of their body. If those openings get flooded with water, death is instant.
So why is this cricket that is clearly headed towards doom, singing?
Jane’s response puts it perfectly.
This is our situation. We are probably in peril. We’re on a branch in the middle of a river. It’s not a good place for a cricket to be, especially if there are some rapids ahead. And yet, what does the cricket do? It sings, because that is its nature, because that is what it has to offer, because it delights in this moment in the sun, because it is on a branch and not yet drowned. And so I feel like our entire lives are in, you know, that haiku, 17 syllables in the Japanese.
So, I think what Issa’s poem poses for us is this:
How can we offer more appropriate responses and enact the courage to sing when we are on our own branches floating downriver.
It seems like a challenge worth opening up to.
I’d love to hear what you think. ⬇️