Shuson Kato’s ‘I kill an ant’ is the poet’s best-known haiku. It’s three lines long, as all traditional haiku is, and deals with the lessons one teaches their children, whether they mean to or not.
Children observe their parents’ actions, even when parents don’t want to be watched, and learn what’s right and wrong from how they behave. In this case, the speaker inadvertently taught his children a lesson about the value of life after they killed an ant.
I kill an ant Shuson KatoI kill an antand realize my three children have been watching
Explore I kill an ant
‘I kill an ant’ by Shuson Kato describes a moment when the speaker kills an ant and suddenly becomes aware that their three children were watching.
The poem seems to reflect on the weight of actions and the awareness of the impact that our actions can have, even in seemingly small moments. The poem leaves the reader to ponder on the implications of this moment on the speaker and the children and the potential for lessons to be learned from the experience.
Structure and Form
‘I kill an ant’ by Shuson Kato is a three-line haiku that takes a slightly different approach to the poetic form than most Japanese poets. While the poem is as brief and succinct as lovers of haiku will be used to, it engages with a distinctly human element that makes it feel deeper and more interesting.
Rather than just focusing in on an animal or a scene in the natural world, the poet chose to discuss a very serious subject: the ethics of killing and the example one sets for their children.
The poet used a few different literary devices in this poem. For example:
- Metaphor: a comparison between two things that does not use “like” or “as.” For example, the speaker’s act of killing the ant can be seen as a metaphor for larger acts of violence and the potential impact of our actions on others.
- Irony: The irony of the situation is that the speaker’s act of killing the ant, which is often considered insignificant, has a significant impact on the children who are watching and learning from them.
- Symbolism: The ant can be seen as a symbol for all forms of life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
I kill an ant
The first line of the poem, ‘I kill an ant’ is a simple statement of action that sets the tone for the entire poem. It suggests an act of violence, a taking of life, which immediately introduces the theme of mortality and the impact of our actions on others, no matter how small they may seem.
The killing of an ant, which is often considered insignificant, highlights the potential for thoughtless violence and raises questions about our relationship with nature and the small creatures that inhabit it.
The line also invites reflection on the ethics of killing and the extent to which we should consider the lives of even the smallest creatures in our daily actions.
and realize my three children
The second line of the poem, “and realize my three children,” introduces a new element to the narrative and adds emotional depth to the act of killing the ant.
The realization that the speaker’s children were watching the act of violence adds a layer of complexity to the situation, suggesting that the speaker is not just responsible for the death of the ant but also for the example that they are setting for their children.
The word “realize” suggests a sudden awareness or realization of something that was previously unnoticed or overlooked. This implies that the speaker was not consciously aware of their children’s presence until after the ant had been killed.
The word “my” also highlights the personal connection the speaker has to their children, which makes the situation more personal and emotional.
have been watching
The third line of the poem, “have been watching,” emphasizes the ongoing nature of the children’s observation and suggests that they have been present for the entire act of killing the ant.
The use of the present perfect tense “have been watching” highlights the fact that the children’s observation is ongoing and raises questions about the potential impact of this experience on their understanding of life and death.
The poet’s use of the word “watching” also implies a sense of attentiveness and curiosity, suggesting that the children are interested in observing the world around them and learning from their experiences.
It’s the fact that the speaker’s children saw him carry out an act of killing that worries them. Clearly, they’re concerned about the example they’re setting.
The theme of the poem is the weight of our actions and the potential impact they can have on others, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. The poem invites reflection on the ethics of violence and the value of life, especially in the context of the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it.
The poem explores the ethics of violence and the value of life by focusing on a seemingly small and insignificant act of killing an ant. Through this act, the poem raises questions about the extent to which we should consider the lives of even the smallest creatures.
The significance of the children watching the speaker kill the ant is that it adds emotional depth to the situation and raises questions about the role of parents and caregivers in shaping the values and attitudes of children.
The tone of the poem is introspective and reflective, inviting the reader to contemplate the weight of our actions and the potential impact they can have on others. The poem is also somewhat melancholic.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘In Kyoto’ by Matsuo Bashō – is a beautiful poem that conveys the poet’s longing to spend time in Kyoto.
- ‘A Poppy Blooms’ by Katsushika Hokusai – depicts a metaphor for the poet’s writing process. ‘
- Everything I touch’ by Kobayashi Issa – depicts a speaker’s pain at not being able to form close relationships.