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The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets, #20)
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The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets, #20)

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  1,013 ratings  ·  64 reviews
American readers have been fascinated, since their exposure to Japanese culture late in the nineteenth century, with the brief Japanese poem called the hokku or haiku. The seventeen-syllable form is rooted in a Japanese tradition of close observation of nature, of making poetry from subtle suggestion. Infused by its great practitioners with the spirit of Zen Buddhism, the...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Ecco (first published May 1st 1994)
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A gorgeous book of haiku by Basho, Buson, and Issa, translated and edited with great care and intelligence by Robert Hass. I keep this book by my bed, actually, and am continually dipping into it; it's a great cure for too much Facebook, email, text messages, etc. The beauty of a haiku is to distil a whole world, or thought, into three lines that linger and unfold their meaning slowly, or else burst into meaning like a private, joyful fireworks.
This book makes me wish there were renga parties in my neighborhood that I could attend. One of the most unfortunate things about the Western poetic tradition -- when contrasted with, say, the Eastern poetic tradition or the Western music tradition or the Western mathematics tradition -- is how rarely collaboration occurs among different practitioners.

One interesting thing about Basho, Buson, and Issa, which Hass duly emphasizes in his editorial notes, is how devoutly Buddhist they all were. The...more
Jen Estrella

I am giving this two stars because I feel so out of my league that I feel bad giving it one star because I am hardly qualified to be rating a book on poetry!

Haiku style poetry is like, a big thing. And I am now willing to admit that I am just poetry retarded. My girlfriend gave me this book and said it was "great!" I was almost excited. As excited as I could be where poetry is involved. When I opened the book I thought I had gotten some weird version of the book. I was flipping thru pages e...more
One of the most accessible forms of poetry--and the Japanese do it best, especially these 3 masters. Very well worth reading. I left this book feeling serene, uplifted and educated (the perfect combination).
Not my favorite haiku anthology out there, to be honest.

Hass compiled three great poets into this book: Basho, Issa, and Buson. Though I don't have the book in front of me, I believe he tackles them in that order, as well.

This book is pretty good, but I personally don't consider it great. It definitely gives the reader a lot of haiku, and it may serve as a good introduction (maybe coupled with Higginson's Haiku Handbook?), but I think it can feel a bit limiting. After all, you're only getting a...more
David Yoon
The book, "The Essential haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa" is a collection of Haiku written by masters of the art, Basho, Buson, and Issa. Personally, I did not like poetry very much especially Haikus. But after reading some of the Haikus of this book, my perspective changed. Now I'm more willing to read other kinds of poetry. Even though many of these Haikus portrayed the wonders of the nature and the poet's longing for certain things, there were many that I could not comprehend; yet t...more
The current attention span of my life is well-suited to haiku.

These are the Japanese masters: Basho, Buson, and Issa. Hass' translations, lyrical and free, seem faithful to the imagery and emotional impact each poet has condensed into three lines. The afterword explaining the difficulties of translating haiku is also enlightening.

There is history and context for both haiku in general (the essay at the end on its collaborative origins in renga I found especially interesting) and each poet's life,...more
Rhea Tregebov
My friend John Fanning of La Muse Writers' Retreat lent me this book while I was there. Hass' translations seem very very strong, and I really want to read this.
Dana Nordstrom
I love this book! I've read it over several times and still just open it up randomly and start reading. A definite must for Haiku lovers!
Another reviewer called this good but "limited," which I'll agree with. The prose bored me. Haiku overload is what I'm looking for.
Always makes me wish I could read them in the original Japanese. Wonderful poetry with interesting explanations and history as well.
Adrian Alvarez
I took a class from Robert Haas during my undergrad. He was a vague teacher but his lectures were careful, rigorous, and were often delivered with a gentleness that made what would otherwise be burdensome topics graceful. So it is with this collection of Haiku by Buson, Basho, and Issa. Among the projects he set forth in the this edition, Haas wanted to show through contrast, how each master's personality and style comes through their work however restricted the form. The effect of reading this...more
Erasmo Guerra
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I'd give it 2.5 stars, somewhere between "it was ok" and "liked it."

Curious about the haiku form, I picked up the book after spotting it in a Japanese bookstore, and read it over the space of three days, one for each of the poets.

The introductory chapters on each poet, and how each is linked to the others, were terrific biographical sketches. The poems themselves? As brief as they were, I was left scratching my head and then started dozing off as I fo...more
Sally Hegedus
I really loved this little book! I enjoyed learning something of the history and form of haiku, also of the stylistic differences between the three haiku masters represented in this book. For someone with little knowledge of the form, who had never, to my recollection, been introduced to these Japanese poets before, this collection was a lovely first dip into their works. I also enjoyed the short sections of longer poems and prose which were also included, particularly those of the poet Issa.
This is a modern classic of the genre, Hass's brevity of translation is a perfect match for the originals. A must for novice and student alike
Patrick Mclean
This book, “The Essential Haiku” was my first experience with this art form. It is a wonderful collection of some of the best Haiku poems written. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the poems, however some were more difficult than others to fully grasp. Some of the magic of the Haiku’s was lost because of language translation. Typically, Haiku’s are written in Japanese, but for the non-Japanese speaking people this book had them all translated to English. I really appreciated the nature aspect t...more
Sara Willis
Dec 02, 2007 Sara Willis rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with a preconceived notions about haiku
I am admittedly ignorant on the form and subject of the haiku. This book was nothing like I thought it would be. It showcases three old school haiku masters who heavily influenced the trade. I thought the haiku written here would be stodgy and antiquated but they were incredibly humorous and relevant and at times displaying a caustic wit.
Here are a few examples,

Day in, day out
on the monkey's face
a monkey face

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art

Also check this out if you want to lear...more
Hass's anthology offers generous selections of three haiku masters: Bashō, Buson, and Issa. In addition to their haiku, he offers prose works by all three, as well as three longer poems by Buson. His introductions and notes provide full, clear contexts for the haiku and other work, contexts missing from many haiku anthologies.

Most of the translations are Hass's own. Whereas English translations of haiku often sound flat, Hass typically creates versions that justify their original authors' reput...more
Compiled by former US Poet Laureate Robert Haas, this is a solid introduction to the fundamental classics of Haiku. It includes works by three founding fathers of Japanese Haiku: Basho, Buson, and Issa.

I bought this after hearing a lecture by another Laureate, Billy Collins, who mentioned reading Haiku as part of his daily routine.

This book requires slow digestion. A single poem can take seconds to read, but can linger for weeks.
This gets 3 stars even though it is thick with the masters of haiku and even though Robert Hass is an impressive scholar. I don't know... it lacks something, perhaps in translation. Henderson is my absolute favorite intro to haiku. He understands how the Japanese gets stuffed into English better. He explains the particulars of syllables and translation while preserving more of the spirit of the poems.
Loved learning about the three masters of Japanese haiku: Basho, Buson and Issa, how they are alike and how they took this simple poetry form and did something revolutionary with it, made it their very own. I got to hear the editor Robert Hass talk about this collection, and about haiku in general, and it really helped me to get inside the intention of haikus. This book is always near at hand...
Sep 05, 2007 Rebecca rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: poetry-lovers
This is the book that first exposed me to haiku. The general introduction and the biographical sketches of each haiku poet are incredibly informative and interesting, and of course the haiku poems themselves are all wonderful. There are even some excerpts from the diary of one of the haiku poets, which is a nice bonus.
John Fanning
Issa is probably my favorite poet. He has all these almost flippant haikus, but then he hits you with ones like this:

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.

Like Dostoyevsky when he hits you with the line: "She trembled like a leaf" near the end of "Crime and Punishment."
At the library,
I found Essential Haiku
near books about terrorism.

Shirley Plummer
Jul 05, 2009 Shirley Plummer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shirley by: no one
Wonderful poems, therefore probably, translations.
Excellent incidental information on form, history; and on schools and style.
I have probably read it three times in this first reading with back references, with and without notes, and so on.
Feb 28, 2008 Jo rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Poetry Enthusiasts
Shelves: poetry
This is a book that you read through once and then keep referring back to when you feel the need for simple, elegant, poetic, composition. I only wish my classes in Japanese had been more fruitful. :o]
Nice to have Basho, Buson, and Issa all in one place. The translations are nice and seem to capture the essence and feel of the haiku. As always I wish the original Japanese was coupled with the English.
This is a very good book for a person just starting to read about the form. Lots of notes at the end. Not always my favorite translations of the haiku's themselves, but definitely worth reading.

remarkable interpretation; Hass endeavors to convey not only image and meaning, but offers us a glimpse of the clever wordplay and literary devices ingrained in this aesthetic.
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mastermagicmadein 1 7 Aug 05, 2010 10:37PM  
  • The Haiku Anthology
  • Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku
  • Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
  • The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan
  • The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology
  • 100 Poems from the Japanese
  • The Selected Poems
  • The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Other Poets
  • The Selected Poems
  • Haiku
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
  • One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan
  • Poems New and Collected
  • The Branch Will Not Break
  • The Book of Nightmares
  • Mountains and Rivers Without End
  • The Making of a Poem
Robert Hass was born in San Francisco and lives in Berkeley, California, where he teaches at the University of California. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. A MacArthur Fellow and a two-time winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, he has published poems, literary essays, and translations. He is married to the poet Brenda Hillman.
More about Robert Hass...
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“When you are composing a verse, let there not be a hair's breadth separating your mind from what you write. Quickly say what is in your mind; never hesitate a moment.” 3 likes
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