Haiku by Issa: “Weaving [image of a butterfly], I am no more than dust.” Design by Meredith Eliassen, 2016.

The Haiku Snail’s Story

February 5, 2016

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that originally evoked a moment in nature consisting of seventeen syllables in a five-seven-five pattern.

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) wrote over 20,000 haiku. Although he was a popular poet, he lived in poverty. Through his many personal trials, his poetry utilizing local dialects and conversational phrases reflects a humility and simplicity. Issa wrote 54 haiku on the snail that serves as a study of their character that I have used for my interpretation of Felix the Helix…

Felix the Helix

Drawing of Felix the Helix before magical rain storm by Meredith Eliassen.

The snail is remarkable adept at exploring new habitats and spaces. Snails are mollusks; they originated in the oceans and over the course of time adapted to life on dry land. They lost their gills and evolved oxygen-breathing lungs. Felix the Helix (also known as “Happy the Snail”), shown here, is an earth snail with rather dull coloration, though some snails are arboreal and those tend to be brightly colored. Felix has a large fleshy foot, antennae and feelers on its head, and a coiled protective shell home that serves as a vessel encasing its asymmetrical visceral mass. Felix breathes through a kind of air-breathing lung and has a rasping organ in its mouth known as a radula.

Winter rain

In the winter, a snail can create a door to its shell, retreat into the shell and then close the door. Here Felix stays safe from the winter elements: “Big winter rain or little winter rain… sleeping is hard.” — Issa. Drawing by Meredith Eliassen.

Felix simply moves by following his nature according to his own principles. Though he appears to be slow, he actually flows effortlessly, without purpose and without a goal: he is one with the Universe. He possesses nothing. He moves and acts spontaneously from his nature and without purpose, he has become one with the Universe.


Felix awakens to find himself transformed in the morning: “Little snail facing this way, where to now?” — Issa. Drawing by Meredith Eliassen.

Paraphrasing the Vinaya-pitaka about a Buddhist concept of inter-dependence:

How can you, foolish men, dig the ground…?

There are living things in the ground.

How can you, foolish men, fell a tree?

There are living things in the tree.

Whatever man should intentionally deprive a breathing thing of life, there is an offence of expiation.”

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