H Haiku Poems

Everything I touch by Kobayashi Issa

‘Everything I touch’ by Kobayashi Issa is a beautiful Japanese haiku written by one of the four great haiku masters. This piece speaks on what one might receive in return when they reach out with tenderness.

This haiku was translated from the original Japanese. This means that much of its original form and even some of its content were lost. The English version used below is a translation that still manages to share the emotion in the poet’s words. He expresses an experience that many readers may find themselves connecting to. It’s one that stretches across the centuries.

Everything I touch by Kobayashi Issa


Read the Haiku – Everything I touch

Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble

Kobayashi Issa


Summary

Everything I touch’ by Kobayashi Issa is a thoughtful haiku that speaks on love, connection, and the pain one might experience.

The three short lines of this poem outline a speaker’s depressing situation. He feels as though every time he reaches out with the intention of connecting with someone, he’s rebuffed. He’s emotionally pricked, experiencing pain when he should receive love or connection in return. No matter how gentle or tender he is, the bramble always pricks him.

Themes

Throughout ‘Everything I touch,’ the poet engages with themes of connection and pain. When seeking for the former, he always receives the latter. His speaker is resigned to the fact that no matter how gentle his touch is or how tender his words, he’s going to be pricked as though he’s touched a bramble. This is a complex, figurative way of saying that when he tries to love someone, he receives pain in return. That love is not shared back with him.

Structure and Form

‘Everything I touch’ by Kobayashi Issa is a three-line haiku. It was originally written in Japanese and has been translated into English. This means that the original haiku pattern of 5-7-5 syllables per line is missing. Despite this, the translator has done the best they can to keep the poem as close to the original as possible. This particular version of the poem was translated by Peter Beilenson with Harry Behn.

Literary Devices

Throughout ‘Everything I touch,’ the poet made use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:

  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two.
  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line, for example, in the second line, when the word “alas” is used. Caesura can be created through the use of punctuation or a natural pause in the meter of a piece.
  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” In this case, the final line of the poem is a good example. It compares the speaker’s efforts to connect to something and the pain he feels to pricking one’s finger on a bramble.
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly vibrant imagery. These images should appeal to the reader’s senses, inspiring them to hear, smell, taste, touch, etc. For example, “pricks like a bramble.”


Detailed Analysis

Line One

Everything I touch

In the first line of the haiku, the speaker begins by making a simple statement. He alludes to some universal event that always happens when he touches something. “Everything” he touches works in a certain way. Through the use of enjambment, the reader is required to move down to the next line to find out what is going to happen next. It’s impossible to know what things he’s talking about, how he’s touching them, or what the result is from just this first line.

Line Two

with tenderness, alas,

In the second line, it’s revealed that the speaker is concerned with what happens when he touches something “with tenderness.” This is an interesting turn of phrase that allows the reader to dig deeper into the poet’s meaning. He could be speaking literally about touching things with tenderness, like embracing a lover or a family member. Or, more likely, he’s speaking metaphorically and is talking about what happens when he cares about something or someone. When he tries to connect to something with gentle love and affection, something else happens, then the desired result. He doesn’t receive the reward or connection he was looking for. The word “alas” at the end of this line makes that clear.

The speaker concludes this line with “alas.” This ensures that the reader is well aware that things are not going according to plan. But that this isn’t an unfamiliar situation. It’s something that’s happened before, and the speaker likely believes is going to happen again.

Line Three

pricks like a bramble.

Whenever the speaker tries to touch something with tenderness, he ends up getting pricked as though he’s touched a bramble. The use of natural imagery in ‘Everything I touch’ shouldn’t surprise readers familiar with haiku. Their use of nature-related imagery is one of their traditionally defining features.

The speaker has repetitively experienced being rebuffed and injured when he tries to reach out with genuine, tender emotion. The use of the word “alas” in the second line ensures the reader is aware that this isn’t a one-time occurrence. It’s something that happens over and over. He receives pain when he gives love and affection. Perhaps, readers might also interpret a feeling of resignation from these lines, as though the speaker is willing to give up on ever receiving anything but pain when he tries to show love.

FAQs

What is the tone of ‘Everything I touch?’

The tone is resigned and sorrowful. The speaker puts forward a feeling of resignation in regard to his ability to connect to other people or things with gentleness. He knows that every time he tries to do so, he’s going to be rebuffed with pain.

Why did Kobayashi Issa write ‘Everything I touch?’

Kobayashi Issa wrote ‘Everything I touch’ as an expression of a speaker’s complex emotional experiences. He was able to condense those emotions down into three lines and connect them with a simple metaphor. It’s likely that he wanted to share this experience with the hope of connecting to readers.

What is the mood of ‘Everything I touch?’

The mood is pessimistic and sympathetic. The reader might feel pity for the speaker when they finish the poem and perhaps even share in his pessimism about love and connection.

What is the meaning of ‘Everything I touch?’

The meaning is that when one shares love, they won’t necessarily receive love in return. For the speaker, more often than not, he receives pain in return.

When was ‘Everything I touch’ written?

Kobayashi Issa was born in 1763 and died in 1828. This means that the poem was written sometime during the 18th and 19th centuries. He is one of the four great haiku masters of Japanese poetry.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘Everything I touch’ should also consider reading other haiku poems. For example:

  • After Killing a Spider’ – describes the negative and dark effects of killing a spider.
  • The Old Pond’ – is one of the best-known Japanese haiku of all time. This haiku consists of three phrases that contain a syllable count of 5-7-5.
  • A Poppy Blooms’ – is a thoughtful poem about writing. The poet uses a metaphor to depict how his process works.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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