Kobayashi Issa, “The snow is melting”

The snow is melting (from Modern American Poetry)
Kobayashi Issa (tr. Robert Hass)

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.


Wryly, Issa takes in what is around him. “The snow is melting:” he feels the release of the cold, sees his village liberated. You would think this an occasion for joy. I recall writing not so long ago about another poem of Issa’s, where “New Year’s morning” meant the transformation from winter to spring.

Rebirth is strongly implicit despite Issa’s cynicism, but if there’s joy, it’s buried underneath snark and sarcasm. “The snow is melting and the village is flooded with children.” On the one hand, this can be seen as the ranting of a bitter old man. On the other, it concerns what is naturally good. It’s a good thing that snow melts, watering the ground and restoring rivers. It’s good that the village has children who emerge as if to flood it. But what is naturally good can be annoying to us, to say the least. It need not concern our short-term good, our perceived good. Maybe in the long-term, those children will remember a man wanting silence so as to write poems, and with that model, embrace a bit of discipline. That we ourselves live such a short time, though, can make us wonder if short-term goods are the only goods there are.

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