In his foreword, Fukuda explains that Issa’s poetry illustrates how well the poet “knew and loved the simple things of earth.” In order to focus the “story of his life” on this aspect of Issa’s existence, the author has chosen to concentrate on the years in which the development of the generally positive, eternally optimistic features of Issa’s poetic sensibility occurred. Consequently, he has omitted any mention of Issa’s three marriages, the death of five of his six children in their early years, and the protracted struggle for legal title to his ancestral holdings. The haiku (which Fukuda has translated himself) that he intermingles throughout the narrative have been chosen to express the extraordinary resilience of Issa’s temperament, and the illustrations by Lydia Cooley are muted pen-and-ink echoes of Japanese calligraphic drawings with soft shades and light tones that reinforce the relaxed mood of the narrative. While the darker side of life is acknowledged, particularly by the poignant image of the motherless child in the initial haiku, there is a positive counterbalance to every source of discouragement. This is the essential theme at the heart of the formation of the poet’s style.
Fukuda arranges his narrative as a demystification of the artist. He attempts to portray the common experiences of a person’s life as sufficient for the development of the most accomplished artistic achievement, and he locates Issa’s love of the natural world as the source of his poetic energy and generally enthusiastic demeanor. In this sense, the poet’s childlike qualities are...
(The entire section is 660 words.)