The heart of Issa: my “Cup-of-tea”

Part One

caged bird –
watching the butterfly
with envy

sow stares through crate bars
remembers ancient woodlands
(when her will was free)

first snowfall –
soon to be boiled
the playful pig

male calf born today!
(he’ll be shot through mouth tomorrow)
human milk snatchers

the year ends –
how long will that turtle
hang there?

badger slumped on verge
bullets pepper his soft chest
victim of sick lies

the sold pony
looks back at mother…
autumn rain

pregnant Dartmoor mare
sent to Italy for ‘meat’
summer’s post-card girl

boars and bears
are my neighbours
winter seclusion

storm pounds the glass pane…
lambs clinging to oaks in fields
(heart sinks like granite)

which one of those
tame cranes
will the arrow hit?

panicked vixen stalls…
they will rip apart her cubs!
bystander turns sab

she cries and attacks
the human goblins…
mother sparrow 

looking shameful
to the pufferfish
people’s faces 

thicket bees
in the next life don’t
be like me 


Heidi Stephenson and Kobayashi Issa

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) known by his pen name Issa (“Cup-of-tea”) was one of Japan’s four great haiku masters. His compassion and empathy for our fellow beings was legendary. These verses in English translation, which I have interspersed with my own, are from Professor David G. Lanoue’s 2014 book:  Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective.




Issa’s Peaceable Kingdom (Part Two)
“Ask the animals, and they will teach you.” (Job 12:7)
resting his hands
on the green plum, asleep…
a frog
baby sparrows
by the cow and the horse
thin wall –
from the mouse’s hole
a wren!
on friendly terms
with the dog of Iosaki…
a plover
the young buck’s
antlers tilting…
spring breeze –
a cow leads the way
to Zenko Temple
from the great bronze
Buddha’s nose…
a swallow!
sitting on her eggs
the hen admires
the peony
sharing the sunset
with the pony…
a snail
katydid –
on his way to being sold
still singing
clinging to
the boar hunter’s arm…
little butterfly
butterfly dances
‘round the arrow
in a dying deer
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)


By Heidi Stephenson

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