Haiku by Issa

Snail,
ever so slowly climb,
Mt Fuji
[1]

蝸牛そろそろ登れ富士の山
katatsuburi sorosoro nobore fuji no yama

12 1/4″ W x 43″ H Japanese Scroll
by Master Japanese Calligrapher Eri Takase

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H3028 Haiku by Issa – Snail, ever so slowly …
by Master Japanese Calligrapher Eri Takase

Snail
ever so slowly climb
Mt Fuji
[1]

katatsuburi
sorosoro nobore
fuji no yama
蝸牛
そろそろ登れ
富士の山
issa 一茶

Asataro Miyamori states this is certainly a moral lesson in haiku form: That with slow steady progress, with “diligence and perseverance”, even us lowly creatures can attain great feats. [2]

Asataro Miyamori suggests the translation:

A simple snail making its way up … the tallest mountain in Japan! [2]

Though another way to look at the poem is that this is Issa simply encouraging his little friend to attempt the seemingly impossible.

Harold Gould Henderson suggests the translation:

Snail, my little man,
slowly, oh, very slowly
climb up Fujisan!
[3]

Asataro Miyamori suggests the translation:

Oh, snail, climb Mount Fuji,
Very, very slowly.
[4]

William N. Porter suggests the translation:

The snail does all he can,
Yet very, very sluggishly,
He climbs Great Fujisan.
[4]

Nelson and Saito suggest the translation:

Snail!
Little by little climb up –
Mt. Fuji.
[5]

Lanoue suggest the translation:

little snail
inch by inch, climb
Mount Fuji!
[6]

R. H. Blyth suggests the translation:

O snail,
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
[7]

R. H. Blyth writes:

Issa may have meant this, as commentators explain it, as a contemptuous reference to themselves meaning, “little by little, you may attain something if you persevere long enough.” I wish to take if differently, however, as a universal application. If you are a snail, be a snail. And if as a snail you climb, follow your snail nature, your Buddha nature, and climb slowly, slowly!

We agree more with the translations of Nelson and Saito [5] and Lanoue [6]. And we encourage you to visit Lanoue’s website (or buy his book) to learn more. For the translation, the poem starts with “snail” and Issa is addressing the little creature and is also telling us what it is – its nature. In the next line, Issa is encouraging the snail to “slowly climb” and then, in the final line, Issa pulls us back to reveal the big picture and what Issa (and perhaps the snail?) have in mind is – to climb Mt. Fuji!

So the order and the exclamation we believe should be preserved. Our difference is to leave out “little” which is not in the original though while it effectively shows Issa’s fondness for the snail – it also unnaturally contrasts the size of the little snail with the large mountain which is not in the original. And we use "slowly" to match the original sorosoro. See translation notes below.

Translation Notes:

蝸牛
そろそろ登れ
富士の山

1) 蝸牛 (katatsuburi) means “snail”, though, in modern Japanese you will find this is read katatsumuri.

2) そろそろ (sorosoro) means “gradually; steadily; slowly; soon”. This is used commonly in modern Japanese.

3) 登れ (nobore) is the imperative form “Climb!” of the verb 登る (noboru) meaning “to climb”.

4) 富士の山 (fuji no yama) means Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji in Japanese is most commonly called 富士山 (fujisan).

Henderson writes, “The famous peak is known either as Fuji-no-yama (Fuji-mountain) or Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji). The western name Fuji-yama is unknown in Japan.” [3]

References:

[1] Translation by Timothy L. Jackowski, Takase Studios, LLC.

[2] 533.

[3] 152.

[4] 533.

[5] 127.

[6] Lanoue, David G. (1991-2009). Haiku of Kobayashi Issa.

[7] 833.