Yosa Buson, “Early summer rain”

Early summer rain (tr. Robert Hass)
Yosa Buson

Early summer rain –
houses facing the river,
two of them.


Not going to limit “them” to “two lone houses,” though Hass informs us the last line has been translated that way. Another comment of his, one I feel more relevant: “The houses are seen at a distance, across the river in the rain.” It seems one needs familiarity with Chinese landscape painting to get that.

My initial reading of the poem itself focused heavily on “them.” Are they houses? Rivers? If we say two rivers, there’s the possibility of flood no matter what. But before the flood, two things could be happening. The one river, duplicating itself, might be quietly ominous. One would need experience to worry appropriately. However, another “river” could be forming between or around the already separate houses. Each house is an island, an individual shelter from the not-quite-so enveloping heat.

The heat of summer is like the rain and the river. It has yet to flood. In a way, we seem prepared. We have shelter – but ultimately they’re for another purpose. Not flood protection, but one’s own. The heat of summer is passion. The only defense is to be at a distance, though one wonders if the speaker is writing from his house.


The Essential Haiku. ed. Robert Hass. New York: HarperCollins, 1944.

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