Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:
The poet Kobayashi Issa suffered greatly in his life — suffered as we all, in time, suffer — and like us, Issa’s suffering informed his opinions about New Year’s. Beginning with his mother at age three, Issa’s loved ones seemed always to die — his grandmother, his children, his wife. No one Issa loved was immune. Issa’s body of work is a chronicle of loneliness and loss. It is not easy to laugh when everything in life goes wrong. Which is what makes Issa’s reputation as a funny poet even more significant. For example:
the moonflowers …
Issa was also a Buddhist and so had a Buddhist perspective on New Year’s. Meaning, he was inclined to view the big through the lens of the microscopic. (Issa wrote no less than 200 poems about frogs, around 230 on the firefly, over 150 about mosquitoes, 90 on flies, and over 100 on fleas, not to mention his gentle meditations on excrement and flatulence.) Issa began his autobiographical work The Spring of My Life with a New Year’s story. It went like this. Long ago, in Fuko Temple, there was a devout priest who was determined to celebrate New Year’s to the fullest. So on New Year’s Eve he wrote a letter to himself and asked a novice to deliver the letter back to himself — the priest — in the morning. On New Year’s Day, the novice entered the priest’s room and handed him the letter. The priest quickly opened the letter and read aloud. “Give up the world of suffering! Come to the Pure Land. I will meet you along the way with a host of bodhisattvas!” And then the priest began weeping so hard the tears soaked his sleeves.