This dewdrop worldAccording to David G. Lanoue, "this haiku was written on the one-year anniversary of the death of Issa's firstborn child, the boy Sentarô. It has a one-word prescript: 'Grieving.' According to Buddhist teaching, life is as fleeting as a dewdrop and so one should not grow attached to the things of this world. Issa's response: 'and yet...'"
Is but a dewdrop world
It is an ephemeral, transient world, and this we must accept. Even so, we suffer, and we grieve. For this, we are given equanimity, on the one hand, and compassion, on the other.
When I think of a dewdrop in Japanese Buddhism, I think of Dogen and his Moon in a Dewdrop ("Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water... The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass...".) But if Issa's dewdrop is related to Dogen's, it seems to be so only in a complicated way. (Or perhaps Dogen's dewdrop is related to the dewdrop in Japanese Buddhist imagery in a complicated way, or a way I don't yet understand.)
I found this poem by another Japanese poet (and artist and Rinzei Zen monk), Sengai, which reflects Issa's dewdrop nicely.
To what shall I compare this life of ours?
Even before I can say
it is like a lightning flash or a dewdrop
it is no more.
- Sengai (1750 - 1837)
This spare and beautiful painting of the moon echoes the "enso" calligraphy he would have often created:
The poem inscribed in the painting can be roughly translated this way:
Looking at the shadow it castsinto the great EmptinessI made a firm resolutionNight of autumn moon.
Dedicating the merit: May the fruits of this post benefit all beings, including, particularly, the earthquake victims in Haiti.
P.S. In Japanese, Issa's dewdrop haiku looks like this:
Tsuyu no yo wa
Tsuyu no ya nagara
I think it's interesting to see a phrase-for-phrase translation:
[Tsuyu-no-yo / wa / tsuyu-no-yo / nagara / sari / nagara]
[Dew-world / as-for / dew-world / while-it-is / so-be / while-it-is]