More Saigyo!

Full Moon with Geese, Ernest Coleman, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Such wonderful poetry this wandering Japanese priest wrote!

I wonder, though.  How was all this collected?  I raise this question because Saigyo died within the period of total upheaval in the capital.  This is probably where chronicles  were kept, by scribes or monks.  There was much burning and turmoil throughout these years towards the end of Saigyo’s life and it is amazing that his poetry, which….he wrote many verses…well, that so much survived.

Part of the answer is this:  Towards the very end of his life  (he died in 1190) he composed some of his very best poetry (at age 79).  There was now in his verse a sense of both his coming death and the surprise of continued life ! a wonder and a composure.  He sent a number of his poems to other poets for their judgment and put together the collection he called “Sanka-shu” or “Mountain-Home-Collection”.

Although there is a sense of Weltschmerz (psychological pain…weariness, sadness)  and self-pity in the suffering in solitude that his poetry displays, it is different from what we would encounter with certain poets in the Romantic tradition of the West.  There is a difference, though,  because Saigyo is a Buddhist and the ego-elevated perspective distorts reality.  What Saigyo’s verse celebrates is not the self, but the phenomena which is before him.  The self is no more important than nature.  Nature marches arm in arm with humanity in this present reality.

Saigyo’s vision comes from the Japanese Shinto traditional reverence for nature:  but also  that largesse in Buddhism which says that nature, or the various natural phenomena is “tomo” or companion to him.  All these things, man, poet, and flowers, plants, trees…all these things are participants with man in the wide and all encompassing Buddhism.  The moon, too…looking down upon humankind….always a factor of mystery and comfort and continuation.

Lady Nyo


Here I’ve a place

So remote, so mountain-closed,

None comes to call.

But those voices!  A whole clan

Of monkeys on the way here!


(this one expresses the lonliness and solitude of his journeys to me)

The moon, like you,

Is far away from me, but it’s

Our sole memento:

If you look and recall our past

Through it, we now can be one mind.


When, at this stage

Of world-loathing, something captures

The heart, then indeed

The same world is all the more

Worthy…..of total disdain.


Why, in this world where

One here yesterday is off today

To the world of death,

Are more and more years and still

More and more months given me?


The color of my

Body garments may have deepened

But my mind

Is still shallow, pale,

Unfit for such a step.


Deep in the mountains,

No call of any bird at all close

And familiar…

Just the spine-tingling hoot

Of that mountain owl!


In the portrait

Emerging on the moon I spied

Your face….so clearly,

The cause of tears which then

Quickly cast the moon in clouds again.


We’re both afflicted

By drafts and wind, and spend our days

Getting up and lying down:

Young bamboo with still-weak core

And I, ill and disheartened.

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “More Saigyo!”

  1. Berowne Says:

    > What Saigyo’s verse celebrates is not the self,
    > but the phenomena which is before him

    Can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it reminds me of Hermann Hesse’s novel _Magister Ludi_ set in a mythical future but quasi-medieval environment where monastic figures create towering artistic works – anonymously.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Could be…I’ve read Hesse many years ago, but not “Magister Ludi”.

    Thanks for reading and your comments, Berowne. They always push the issue forward.

    Lady Nyo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: