"Don't worry, spiders..."

Robert Hass

Translations of Haiku by Issa

Translating haiku seems like a natural fit for Robert Hass, a United States Poet Laureate (1995-97), and recipient of the 2007 National Book Award for poetry. Hass says he likes poems that "get to the point," citing beat poet Lew Welch's classic "Raid Kills Bugs Dead." In this video Hass reads selected haiku by Kobayashi Issa from his book of translations The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (1994). Issa, who was born in 1763 to a farming family in rural Japan, is considered one of four great masters of Haiku. This seventeen syllable poetic form is known for its ability to squeeze astonishing beauty and depth of feeling out of plain language and direct observation. Issa's poems are remarkable for their "pathos and humor," especially in light of the string of tragedies that marked each stage of his life.

To read this and other poems and translations by Robert Hass, as well as biographical information about the poet, please visit the Poetry Foundation Web site.