Yosa Buson, “The old fisherman”

The old fisherman
Yosa Buson (tr. Kenneth Yasuda)

The old fisherman
unalterably intent…
cold evening rain


An aged, withered fisherman, his desire turned into habit into obsessive, otherworldly focus, is image enough. “Unalterably intent” describes the fisherman’s gaze and behavior perfectly. Why bother with “cold evening rain?” After all, it threatens to make the image comically pathetic. What if he catches no fish? Or struggles to respond to a bite?

But Buson is himself out in the cold, evening rain. To observe and think and reflect are fishing in the dark, too. Only, if the fisherman gets a fish, he has food or money or an actual good. Prior to poetry, attentiveness to being human produces nothing, and a few beautifully wrought syllables are a questionable good.

Which brings us back to the combination of intensity and depression characterizing the fisherman. It sounds like a lot of times we’d rather forget. Pining over someone pointlessly, lingering in memory over one’s own story being more cause than effect. I wonder if Buson is wondering whether we have to become a bit embittered as we grow older. Bitter, more precisely, because we hope to mean something.