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 IssaO snail,climb Mt. Fuji,but slowly, slowly
Explore O snail
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Kobayashi Issa poems. For example:
Other related poems include: