To Kill an Ant

Wednesday, 8 November 2023

As parents, we always need to be mindful of acting in ways opposite to how we tell our kids to act. Of this, Shūson wrote:

ari korosu ware o sannin no ko ni mirarenu[1]

I killed an ant…
then realized
my three kids were watching

Shinsuke Minegishi - An Ant
Shinsuke Minegishi – “An Ant”

Shūson was one of the more famous modern haiku poets. Initially he hated the restrictive format of haiku and preferred the 31-mora tanka.[3] Then he met Shūōshi Mizuhara, a highly acclaimed haiku poet, and fell in love with the small verse. He had a serious illness in the 1960s and once recovered from it, his haiku took on ideas of human life and life in general.

His mentor, Mizuhara, was one of the free style haiku poets of whom I’ve talked of before. We can see that influence in this haiku, which by my count is 5/8/6 instead of the standard 5/7/5 count.

This may be one of Shūson’s most famous verses. It illustrates a tricky situation that I’m sure all parents have found themselves in at least once, the moment when we are caught doing something we tell them not to do.

I can especially relate. I always teach my boys to not kill and be kind to insects and animals. If we find spiders or even cockroaches in the house, I always get my boys to help me trap them, then we let them go outside. Yet a few summers ago I was being bothered by mosquitoes at my in-law’s house and I impulsively smashed one that was biting my leg. Suddenly I heard a small voice cry: “Papa, why did you kill that bug?! That was a bad thing to do!”

How do you respond to something like that?

  1. See: Pronunciation of Japanese  ↩

  2. See: a note on translations  ↩

  3. We usually say 17 and 31 syllables for haiku and tanka out of convinience and simplicity, but the Japanese poems actually use mora, not syllables. Briefly, mora are almost the same but are often shorter. Perhaps I will write about this sometime, but check out Wikipedia for now.  ↩

Published by David

Watching the world drift by, learning as I go, lost in Japan

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