the binding cord

It is a commonplace of life that the greatest pleasure issues ultimately in the greatest grief.  Yet why – why is it that this child of mine, who has not tasted half the pleasures that the world has to offer, who ought, by rights, to be as fresh and green as the vigorous young needles of the everlasting pine – why must she lie here on her deathbed, swollen with blisters, caught in the loathsome clutches of the vile god of smallpox.  Being, as I am, her father, I can scarcely bear to watch her withering away – a little more each day – like some pure, untainted blossom that is ravished by the sudden onslaught of mud and rain.

…(F)inally, on the twenty-first of June, as the morning glories were just closing their flowers, she closed her eyes forever.  Her mother embraced the cold body, and cried bitterly.  For myself, I knew well it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return, and blossoms that are scattered are gone beyond recall.  Yet try as I would, I could not, simply could not, cut the binding cord of human love.

The world of dew
is the world of dew.
And yet, and yet –

from A Year of My Life

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) is perhaps one of my favourite poets.  His poems are flip, fierce, and take a perspective of the other – what James Austin calls an allocentric view.  There’s a darkness in some of his poetry and prose which comes from the many losses and conflicts in his life.    Rejected by his step-mother, estranged from family, caught in estate battles over his father’s will, his life seemed a never-ending flow of struggles.  Maybe all this was the cauldron for his creativity.  At the age of 51, he married a 27-year old woman and had three children.  The first two died before their first birthday; the third, Sato, lived barely a year.  He produced his major prose A Year of My Life after her death.  Misfortune dogged him, however, until he died in 1827, leaving his third wife and unborn child.  Yata, his daughter, inherited his home and lived there until the 1950’s.

Loss and grief are such demanding co-teachers.  They assign long hours of practice and work with no promise that I will graduate with honours. And there is no guarantee that the “binding cord of human love” will be severed.

Thank you for practicing,


2 thoughts on “the binding cord

  1. Thank you for this post. Yes, this is a haunting poem, one that, once you’ve read it, can’t be forgotten. I’ve had it under my skin for some years now, it often speaks for me. I’ve yet to experience the scale of pain from which it was written. When that pain – in what ever form it takes – does come, I’m glad the poem is there. Thank you for the background and for matching it with a very expressive calligraphy. Marcus _/\_

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