O snail

Kobayashi Issa

‘O snail’ by Kobayashi Issa is a well-known poem that celebrates nature while also inspiring readers to take their time to overcome great obstacles. 


Kobayashi Issa

Nationality: Japanese

Kobayashi Issa is considered a one of the best Haiku poets of his time, known for his unique and humorous Haiku writing style.

Unlike many other Haiku poets of his era, Issa employed the tools of satire and humor in his works as a way of connecting with the reader.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Perseverance is key

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Confidence, Empathy, Pride

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 18th Century

This is a beautiful haiku by Kobayashi Issa, one of the world-renowned masters of the form. It focuses in on a snail's quest to climb Mt. Fuji and is filled with symbolism.

The haiku masterpiece, ‘O snail,’ was composed by the celebrated Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. Within its brevity, this poem encapsulates a timeless message of tranquility, patience, and the appreciation of life’s gentle rhythms.

O snail
Kobayashi Issa

O snail,climb Mt. Fuji,but slowly, slowly


‘O snail’ by Kobayashi Issa is a poem of perseverance and hope. In the lines, the poet addresses a snail, encouraging it to climb Mount Fuji. 

In the first line, the poet addresses the snail. He tells it to climb the mountain (which is the tallest in Japan). However, he advises the snail to do so slowly, emphasizing the importance of patience and taking one’s time. This is the only way, the poet implies, that the snail is going to make it to the summit. 

Structure and Form 

‘O snail’ by Kobayashi Issa is a three-line traditional haiku that was originally written in Japanese. The poem has since been translated into English, and readers should be aware that some literary devices, like alliteration and sibilance, apply in the English version but may not exist in the original version of the poem. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. These include: 

  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that does not use “like” or “as.” The snail climbing Mount Fuji serves as a metaphor for personal growth, aspiration, and the pursuit of goals.
  • Symbolism: occurs when the poet uses an image to represent something more meaningful. In this case, Mount Fuji symbolizes transcendence, spiritual enlightenment, and the pursuit of something greater.
  • Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the snail is personified as it is encouraged to undertake a challenging journey, suggesting that even the smallest creatures can pursue significant goals.

Detailed Analysis 

Line One

Oh snail,

The first line of the poem, ‘O snail,’ sets the tone and introduces the subject of the poem. The usage of “O” indicates that the poet is talking to the snail, an example of a literary device known as an apostrophe. It also has a tone of familiarity or perhaps even affection towards the snail. The poet’s choice to focus on a snail, a small and slow creature, suggests contemplation of the natural world and the significance found in seemingly insignificant beings.

The simplicity and brevity of the line also contribute to the overall theme of the poem, which is centered around the concept of taking things slowly. The poet’s attention to the snail, a creature known for its leisurely pace, reflects a reverence for the unhurried rhythms of the natural world. 

Additionally, by highlighting the snail as the subject, the poet may be encouraging the reader to find beauty and value in the ordinary and often overlooked aspects of life. This is something that the poet’s writing is well-known for. 

Line Two 

climb Mt. Fuji, 

The second line of the poem, “climb Mt. Fuji,” introduces a specific and iconic location, Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is a well-known mountain in Japan, renowned for its beauty and cultural significance. By mentioning Mount Fuji, the poet evokes a sense of grandeur, aspiration, and challenge.

The act of climbing Mount Fuji is symbolic and can be interpreted metaphorically. It represents a pursuit of personal goals, ambitions, or spiritual enlightenment. The mention of this majestic mountain suggests a desire for growth, transcendence, and reaching new heights. It implies a call to action, urging the snail to embark on a significant and transformative journey.

The choice of Mount Fuji specifically carries an important cultural significance. Mount Fuji is deeply rooted in Japanese tradition and is considered a sacred site. It has been a subject of inspiration for numerous artists and writers throughout history. By referencing Mount Fuji, the poet taps into a collective cultural consciousness.

Line Three

but slowly, slowly

The final line of the poem, “but slowly, slowly,” serves as a concluding statement and emphasizes the importance of a measured and deliberate approach. It echoes the central theme of the poem, which is the value of taking things slowly.

The repetition of the word “slowly” underscores the poet’s insistence on the snail’s unhurried pace. By repeating the word, the poet emphasizes the need for patience and mindfulness, urging the snail to proceed with caution and attentiveness.

The use of the word “but” indicates a contrast or deviation from what might be expected. While the snail is encouraged to climb Mount Fuji, a challenging task, the poet advises against rushing or hastiness. Instead, the poet advocates for a slower, more deliberate approach that appreciates the journey itself rather than solely focusing on reaching the destination.

The repetition of “slowly” also creates a gentle and rhythmic quality, mimicking the snail’s own movement and further reinforcing the overall message of the poem. It invites the reader to reflect on the significance of slowing down, savoring the present moment, and embracing the journey, regardless of its pace.


What is the significance of addressing the snail directly in the poem?

The direct address of the snail in the poem establishes an intimate connection between the poet and nature. It conveys a sense of familiarity and perhaps even affection, highlighting the poet’s attentiveness to the smallest creatures and their significance in the natural world.

Why does the poet encourage the snail to climb Mount Fuji?

The poet encourages the snail to climb Mount Fuji as a metaphorical call to action. It represents the pursuit of personal goals and aspirations. By urging the snail, the poet advocates for embracing challenges and striving for growth, emphasizing that even slow progress is valuable.

What is the symbolism behind Mount Fuji in the poem?

Mount Fuji symbolizes grandeur, aspiration, and the pursuit of something greater. Its mention evokes a sense of awe and reverence. By referencing Mount Fuji, the poet taps into cultural symbolism and invites contemplation on themes of personal growth, transcendence, and the quest for enlightenment.

Why does the poet emphasize the importance of taking things slowly?

The poet emphasizes the importance of taking things slowly to evoke mindfulness and appreciation for the present moment. By advocating for a measured approach, the poet encourages savoring the journey itself rather than solely focusing on the end goal.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Kobayashi Issa poems. For example: 

Other related poems include: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

O snail

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Kobayashi Issa

Kobayashi Issa was a prominent Japanese poet of the 18th century known for his haiku poems that captured the essence of everyday life and nature. In 'O snail,' Issa's poetry reflects his keen observation and appreciation for the small wonders of nature, portraying the snail as a humble and resilient creature. This poem is widely considered to be his best.
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18th Century

The 18th century was a time of flourishing poetry in various parts of the world. Issa's poetry, specifically 'O snail,' is rooted in the haiku tradition of Japan and stands out for its simplicity and connection to nature. His poems often convey profound emotions and insights in just a few lines, exemplifying the concise and evocative nature of 18th-century poetry.
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Japanese poetry, including haiku, has a rich tradition spanning centuries. Issa's work is deeply rooted in this tradition, reflecting his appreciation for nature, his attention to detail, and his ability to convey profound emotions with an economy of words. 'O snail' continues to inspire and influence poets both in Japan and around the world and is considered one of the best examples of Japanese poetry.
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This poem becomes a celebration of the snail's existence and its contribution to the natural order. Through his poetic words, Issa invites us to find joy in the ordinary and to appreciate the beauty that can be found in even the smallest of creatures.
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The snail's slow and steady journey is a metaphorical reflection of life's journey in Issa's poem. It reminds us that progress does not always have to be fast-paced or grand. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of perseverance and patience in reaching our goals, even if our path may seem insignificant compared to others.
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Nature is a recurring theme in Issa's poetry, and 'O snail' is no exception. Through his vivid descriptions and imagery, Issa celebrates the beauty and harmony found in the natural world. The snail becomes a symbol of perseverance and strength in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds.
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The snail's steady progress and determination reflect a quiet confidence in its abilities. Issa's poem serves as a reminder that self-belief and confidence, no matter how subtle, are vital in navigating life's challenges.
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This poem demonstrates the poet's deep empathy for all living beings. In 'O snail,' he encourages readers to view the world from the snail's perspective, cultivating a sense of understanding and compassion for creatures that may often go unnoticed or undervalued.
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Though the snail may be small and unassuming, Issa's poem carries a sense of pride for this creature. By highlighting the snail's journey and its ability to overcome obstacles, Issa suggests that even the most seemingly insignificant beings have their own worth and dignity.
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Animals play a significant role in Issa's poetry. In this case, the poet focuses on a single snail that represents both the delicate balance of nature and the universal experiences shared by all creatures. Through his observations of the snail, Issa invites readers to contemplate their own place within the natural world and how they, too, might climb their own "Mt. Fuji."
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Life Struggles

Issa acknowledges the struggles of life in his poetry, reminding us that challenges are an inherent part of existence. In 'O snail,' the snail's slow progress symbolizes the obstacles we all face, emphasizing the importance of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.
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The snail's slow and persistent movement in Issa's poem embodies the spirit of perseverance. It serves as a reminder that even in the face of difficulties or setbacks, staying committed to our goals and steadily moving forward can lead to meaningful progress.
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In its simplicity and resilience, the snail in this poem embodies a quiet strength. The poem encourages readers to recognize and appreciate the strength found in the smallest and most unassuming aspects of life.
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Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines and a specific syllable structure. Issa was a master of haiku, and 'O snail' exemplifies the brevity, simplicity, and focus on capturing a single moment that characterises this poetic form.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
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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