Kobayashi Issa, “Napped half the day”

With thanks to Madeline Frohlich

Napped half the day (from Modern American Poetry)
Kobayashi Issa (tr. Robert Hass)

Napped half the day;
no one
punished me!


Our speaker was actually punished – by “no one.” What does it mean to sleep half the day? It is a denial of existence, no?

“No one” puts together halves that don’t form a whole. “No one” is an observer that is the speaker himself, not just everyone else. The speaker observed himself, now relates the story. Perhaps “no one” is ultimately appealing to “every one” for punishment.

The key question, though: how do our waking and sleeping selves unite? They really don’t. Sleeping is almost punishment for waking, and waking is definitely punishment at times after sleep. Our lives aren’t torture, they just don’t make a lot of sense. We work to try and keep things going that do make sense. We are punished for betraying those conventions, those which help keep others sane. But napping half the day isn’t insanity, when you really think about it. It isn’t just laziness here. It’s actually an attempted reconciliation between our sleeping and waking hours. A lack of existence is a lack of such a reconciliation.

1 Comment

  1. One of my favourite poems, from one of my favourite poets. As a Zen hermit monk, these lines have special meaning for me. When you follow the eremetical path, you do what feels right, what your practise suggests you do. This is different from life in the monastery, where you do what order demands, what tradition demands, sometimes what the current master demands, whether it makes sense or not. Life inside requires that kind of discipline; life outside, another kind.

    To me, Issa is expressing this fact. “I’ve got no master caning me for this, and this is what the day suggested I do, so this is what I did.” And the implication is, it was the correct use of the day.

    Great blog!


    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *