The snow of yesterday

Koshigaya Gozan

‘The snow of yesterday’ by Gozan is a beautiful and meaningful haiku about transformation and nature. It uses the image of snow transforming into water. 


Koshigaya Gozan

Nationality: Japanese

Koshigaya Gozan was a Japanese poet and haiku master of the Edo period

His haiku are known to capture the beauty of nature.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Life is always changing

Themes: Aging, Beauty, Nature

Speaker: Gozan

Emotions Evoked: Empathy, Faith, Hope

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 18th Century

This is a beautiful haiku that explores the ever-changing nature of life and how snow transforms into water.

The poem was written near the end of the poet’s life, when he was 71, and was likely inspired by Zen Buddhism as well as his thoughts about what was going to happen after he died. Would he be reborn like the snow turns into “water once again?” 

The snow of yesterday
Koshigaya Gozan

The snow of yesterdayThat fell like cherry blossomsIs water once again


‘The snow of yesterday’ by Koshigaya Gozan depicts the transient nature of beauty and life.

It describes how the snow that fell yesterday, resembling delicate cherry blossoms, has melted and transformed into water once again. The poem captures the ephemeral and brief nature of existence, emphasizing the impermanence of beauty and the constant cycle of change (this taps into a popular belief in Zen Buddhism). 

Structure and Form 

‘The snow of yesterday’ by Koshigaya Gozan is a three-line poem that takes the form of a classical haiku. It’s important to note, right off the bat, that this poem was translated from the original Japanese. This means that some structural elements, like the syllable count, have been lost in translation. Any letter-based literary devices are also a result of the translation and not the poet’s original intentions (like alliteration, assonance, or consonance). 

Literary Devices 

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

  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting and impactful imagery. For example, “fell like cherry blossoms.”
  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “The snow of yesterday / fell like cherry blossoms.” 
  • Enjambment: this literary device is seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

The snow of yesterday

The first line of the poem, ‘The snow of yesterday,’ describes the setting Gozan was interested in. By referring to the snow as “the snow of yesterday,” the poet immediately establishes a time dimension to the text, implying that the snowfall occurred in the past. This fact prompts reflection on the fleeting nature of the snow, it’s here for one moment, and then it’s gone. 

Furthermore, the choice of “snow” as the subject of the line carries symbolic significance. Snow is often associated with purity, innocence, and beauty. It can evoke a sense of wonder and enchantment. However, snow is also known for its brief existence, melting away as temperatures rise. By emphasizing the temporary nature of the snow, the poet highlights the fragile and fleeting nature of beauty.

The juxtaposition of “yesterday” further emphasizes the passing of time. It signifies that the beauty and allure of the snow were experienced in the recent past but have already vanished. This notion of the immediate past being relegated to memory intensifies the sense of transience and the inevitable passage of time.

Line Two 

That fell like cherry blossoms

The second line of the poem, “That fell like cherry blossoms,” deepens the imagery and symbolism introduced in the first line. The comparison of the falling snow to cherry blossoms creates a vivid and evocative image in the reader’s mind (this is an example of a simile).

Cherry blossoms are renowned for their delicate and ethereal beauty. They symbolize the beauty in life (especially how temporary that beauty is). By likening the falling snow to cherry blossoms, the poet establishes a parallel between these two elements of nature, emphasizing their shared qualities of beauty and impermanence.

The simile “fell like cherry blossoms” not only enhances the sensory experience of the poem but also underscores the poetic sensibility of the snowfall. It suggests that the snow descended gracefully, perhaps in a gentle and mesmerizing manner, akin to the falling petals of cherry blossoms. This comparison imbues the snowfall with a sense of elegance, evoking a serene and poetic atmosphere.

The use of cherry blossoms in this line carries cultural and symbolic significance in Japanese literature and aesthetics. In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms (sakura) have long been associated with the transient nature of life and the concept of mono no aware, which is an appreciation of the impermanence of things. 

Line Three 

Is water once again

The final line of the poem, “Is water once again,” encapsulates the transformative nature of the snow, bringing the theme of impermanence full circle. This simple statement carries profound implications and serves as a poignant conclusion to the poem.

By stating that the snow has become water once again, the poet emphasizes the transient and ever-changing nature of existence. It suggests that the snow, which initially captivated with its beauty and evoked the imagery of cherry blossoms, has undergone a complete transformation (or reincarnation). The snow has melted, losing its form and essence, and returned to its original state of water. This transformation highlights the cyclical nature of life, where nothing remains static or permanent.

The use of the phrase “once again” further reinforces the idea of cycles and repetition. It suggests that this transformation from snow to water is not a singular event but part of an ongoing process. It implies that the water will, in turn, undergo further transformations and continue its journey through the cycles of nature. 

The simplicity and directness of the final line also contribute to its impact. The use of the verb “is” followed by the noun “water” creates a concise statement that carries a sense of finality. It leaves the reader with a profound realization that everything in life eventually reverts to its fundamental nature.


What is the tone of ‘The snow of yesterday?’

The tone of this poem can be described as contemplative and reflective. The poem evokes a mood of introspection and invites the reader to ponder the temporary nature of beauty and life.

What is the purpose of ‘The snow of yesterday?’

The purpose of ‘The snow of yesterday’ is to explore and convey the theme of impermanence. The poem serves as a meditation on the fleeting nature of beauty and the transitory experiences in life.

What is the importance of ‘The snow of yesterday?’

The importance of ‘The snow of yesterday’ lies in its ability to capture the essence of impermanence and convey it through clear images and concise language. The poem reminds readers of the way that living things transform and take on new forms. 

What is the theme of ‘The snow of yesterday?’

The theme of ‘The snow of yesterday’ is the impermanence of beauty and the transient nature of life. The poem explores the idea that all things in life, including moments of beauty and joy, are fleeting and subject to change.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

The snow of yesterday

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

Koshigaya Gozan

Koshigaya Gozan was an important Japanese poet whose work is often overlooked in favor of better-known haiku poets. However, this poem is an incredibly beautiful example of the form that deserves to be considered among the best haiku poems written by Japanese poets. The piece demonstrates how deeply symbolic haiku can be, despite being only three lines long. This one touches on images of nature, life and death, Zen Buddhism, and more.
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18th Century

This poem reflects elements of 18th-century poetry in its exploration of nature and transience. It shares similarities with Romantic poetry, which often focused on the beauty of nature and the fleeting moments of life. The poem's contemplative tone and introspective mood align with the reflective nature of 18th-century poetry.
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This poem draws inspiration from Japanese poetic traditions, particularly in its exploration of nature. The influence of Japanese poetry is evident in the use of imagery and the emphasis on the beauty of simple, passing moments. The poem echoes the sensibilities of Japanese poetry, which often celebrates the transitory nature of life and seeks to evoke a sense of emotional resonance through simplicity and contemplation. This poem is not as well-known as some other Japanese poems, but it is still important.
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The poem indirectly addresses the concept of aging through its emphasis on change. Just as the snow melts and transforms, aging reminds us of the passage of time and the fleeting nature of youth and beauty. The poem prompts us to reflect on the temporality of life.
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This poem explores the notion of beauty as a fleeting quality. The comparison of the falling snow to cherry blossoms evokes a sense of delicate and ethereal beauty. The poem reminds us that beauty, like the snow, is impermanent and subject to change.
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Nature plays a central role in 'The snow of yesterday.' The poem captures the essence of nature's transformative power through the imagery of the snowfall. It highlights the cyclical nature of natural processes and the constant change inherent in the world around us.
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While not explicitly mentioned in the poem, 'The snow of yesterday' can evoke feelings of empathy in the reader. It encourages us to connect with others on a deeper level, recognizing that everyone shares the experience of living in a world marked by constant change and the passing of time.
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The poem does not directly address faith, but it indirectly touches upon the importance of finding meaning and solace in life's changes. It encourages a perspective that embraces faith in the face of impermanence. This feels especially important when one considers that Gozan wrote this poem near the end of his life.
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There is an element of hope in this poem, seen through the poet's depiction of snow transforming into water rather than disappearing entirely. This suggests an interest in the tenants of Zen Buddhism and the interconnected nature of all living things. When someone or something dies, they do not disappear entirely.
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While the poem does not explicitly discuss the afterlife, it can prompt contemplation about the nature of existence beyond the present moment. The fleeting nature of the snow serves as a reminder of the finite nature of our earthly lives.
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The imagery of cherry blossoms in the poem symbolizes the temporary beauty of flowers. The poem is meant to remind readers of the fragility and evanescent quality of flowers, emphasizing their temporary existence and the need to appreciate their beauty while it lasts.
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The poem's central metaphor revolves around the transformative nature of snow. The snowfall, which resembles cherry blossoms, undergoes a complete transformation, melting and becoming water once again. This transformation serves as a metaphor for broader themes of change and transformation in life.
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Transformation is the most important topic at work in this poem. The poet focuses the poem on the way that snow changes and remains useful and beautiful. It becomes something else after briefly demonstrating its beauty to the world. One could take this approach to a discussion of human life as well.
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The poem's concise structure and focus on natural imagery align with the essence of haiku. Both aim to capture a fleeting moment in nature, conveying a sense of transience and inviting the reader to contemplate its beauty and significance. This is a wonderful example of a haiku poem that should be ranked among the best in Japanese history.
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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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