Kobayashi Issa, “New Year’s morning”

New Year’s morning (from Modern American Poetry)
Kobayashi Issa (tr. Robert Hass)

New Year’s morning–
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.


I guess you could rejoice that “everything is in blossom” on “New Year’s morning,” that spring itself celebrates the emergence of light from darkness. For us nowadays, even in the midst of winter, the calendar year switches and resolutions are made, as the perception of time is shaped to fit a conception of self. We want to feel like we’re growing, like life is our journey, and so we have set dates as festivals and milestones. I guess if you set the new year in spring, or some point where things were absolutely in bloom, you’d reinforce this logic to an extreme degree. It would be like the universe itself, the natural world, was reaching its peak at a certain moment, and we were wise enough to mark that as our new year. If everything else is in bloom, we should be too: a natural law, no?

Well, Issa’s like “meh.” “I feel about average.” Maybe he’s an unnatural being, or naturally a grouch. Or this is just another day, another day where he feels average while everything blooms. It’s funny how he points to his freedom in merely approaching the situation the way he does. His attitude points to his perception of time, and that in turn points to the fact that our perception of time doesn’t really follow any natural order we truly understand. Maybe we’re entirely determined, but we don’t know enough to really know that. Normalcy, averageness, is a strange condition in a universe that seems on edge, teetering between chaos and magnificence.

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