meeting Chiyo-ni

An introduction to my series a Chiyo-ni. 7 disegni per 28 haiku [to Chiyo-ni. 7 drawings for 28 haikus]

Starting point for this series of drawings, which I will present in the next posts, was my ‘urge’ for an Italian metrical translation of haikus by the Japanese poetess Chiyo-ni, who lived in the Kaga Province from 1703 to 1775.

This amazing artist was a master in poetry, calligraphy and painting. She wrote her first haiku at the age of seven and was already famous throughout Japan when she was only seventeen. Little is known about her biography, she possibly married at 25, got a child who soon died and became widow at 27. Certain is: she became a nun of the Pure Land Buddhist school at the age of 52, wrote haikus her life long, tightened deep bonds with other women writers, some of them being nuns, others former prostitutes, and together they loved exercising in renku, a form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry. Her haikus were published for the first time when she was nineteen, were included in more than one hundred anthologies alone when she was alive, and in her lifetime she achieved to publish two collections of her own poetry, which in those times was unusual even for men. No wonder that I got fascinated…

Coming back to my work, the first task was the ‘translating experiment’. I have to call it so, because I cannot actually speak Japanese… but I love approaching to new languages. I then learned some grammar and tested myself with the help of online dictionaries, being the main task for me not the translation itself, but to get a good metrical Italian translation of the haikus, which are mainly composed in 5-7-5 syllable verses. Of course I let my translations being verified, and I was very happy to hear that they were pretty good, at the end.

Besides the typical connection to daily, simple objects of the respective season (in every haiku you’ll always find a ‘seasonal word’, that is a kigo), and beyond the very sensual character of some compositions, the major interest for me in Chiyo-ni’s haiku, as a Buddhist myself (even if not of the same school of Chiyo-ni),  is that one can also recognize as a guideline in her work the Buddhist principle of Impermanence. A further starting point for my work was the 7 year cycle, which occurs in every life, that became my unit of measurement for an autobiographical series of drawings.

Each drawing reflects a 7 year cycle of my life and lays literally on 4 haikus by Chiyo-ni, one per season. The resulting proportion :

(1 year / 4 haikus) : Chiyo-ni = (1 drawing / 7 years) : myself

Realistically depicted, significant objects of my life are overlayed by a stylized self-portrait; this overlapping should highlight the Buddhist principle of the Oneness of Self and Environment, which runs in parallel to the one of Impermanence.

In the next posts I’ll present the 7 drawings one by one, together with my Italian metrical translation of the haikus, and add the links here. The drawings have been made with colour pencils and ink on washi paper. The Japanese paper and the stylized self-portraits are a homage to the work of Chiyo-ni not only as a poetess, but also as a calligrapher and a painter. Here they are: I (age 0-7), II (age 8-14), III (age 15-21).

Special thanks to the other Roberta, who helped me checking the translations.


Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi, Chiyo-ni. Woman Haiku Master, Charles E. Tuttle Publishing, 1998.
Chiyo-ni 1703-1775 [online anthology in French].
HAIKU [English anthology of several author’s poems from “Dr. Michael Haldane’s translation homepage”]


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