Japanese Death Poems

Today we have a talented guest host over at dVerse Poets Pub, Gayle, who is talking about Jisei or Japanese death poems. These messages to loved ones written in preparation of one’s death are particularly appropriate at the time of the autumn equinox (which was celebrated yesterday, Wednesday 23rd September in Japan), a traditional holiday for visiting the graves of your ancestors.

Shy sapling peering –
no stunted growth, shrivelled roots:
too late to catch
the warming rays of summer.
Will there be time to rise forth?

Oak-sapling-Quercus-robur-001A bit of background for the above: Minamoto Yorimasa in 12th century (Heian period) Japan was a sensitive, poetic soul who tried to stay out of politics, but finally found himself reluctantly leading the Minamoto clan into battle against the Taira clan in a messy period of Japanese history. He committed ritual suicide and his death poem below shows his bitterness at what he perceives to have been a wasted life:

Like a rotten log
half buried in the ground –
my life, which
has not flowered, comes
to this sad end.

My greatest fear is that when my life comes to an end, I will still not have got around to doing the things that are really important to me, nor lived as I wanted to.

Emotion in Poetry: Misaligned

Mandarin.duck.arpYour ducks poised for flight         forever

askew, misaligned,

I linger to add my knowledge

whether you want it or miss

the days of silent entertainment.  Mirth

drops like bounty from that dog-eared sky

where geese meet your ducks, summer meets winter.

And I, alone, my ducks in a row…

One just off,

so easy to shoot at

just mock.

just mock.

Claudia has us playing with our emotions over at dVerse Poets Pub: don’t show, don’t tell, just hint. I’ve been trying to remember all the delicate allusive texts of Japanese literature. Mandarin ducks are regarded as the ideal couple in Japanese poetic and theatrical tradition. Tachibana Akemi, one of the greatest poets of the late Edo period, summed it up beautifully below, but it all changes when geese come into the picture. Or more ducks.

My sweetheart and I,
Sleepy face side by side,
Look out at the pond
Covered with snow and watch
The mandarin ducks floating.