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Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This poem was inspired by my deep admiration for the poetry of the 18th century Japanese hermit Ryokan. In my opinion, he is the greatest poet to ever live. I recommend "One Robe, One Bowl", an excellent English translation of his work.

visions of ryokan

on this winter’s night
i think of my life
and how soft I am!

if the temperature of the day
is a smidgen too warm
if my room at night
holds the slightest of chill
I become agitated!

if the mail refuses
to come on time
or a raindrop
lands itself
upon my porch
i curse the postman
and cancel my walk

blanket on my lap
a sweater on my back
scented candle on the table
a little heater on the floor
i read a few lines
of ryokan
and the shame comes

one robe
one bowl
were his only possessions
yet there is lyrical joy
in the wisdom of his writings

unable to enjoy
a moment’s sleep
through the long lonely night
from the snow outside his hut
which chilled his feet to the bone
he would write about the beauty
of the moon
and the song of the nightbird

with pangs in his belly
from days on end
of no rice for his bowl
he wrote lines of love
and adoration
for all who refused him food

his dreams were not
of riches
or warmth
or food
or where he might go
when this world ends

they were visions
of the laughter of children
he’d play with
in the village
where he begged for food

his bowl was empty
his heart was warm
so on this night
of opulence
i have dreams of ryokan
in my heart
and my head

1 comment:

  1. When I first read this I commented and I think I failed to click "Post!"

    You made a thoughtful comparison of lives.. of the peace that is so often lacking.