More Saigyo, Japanese Priest-Poet

Matsuo Basho says of  Saigyo that he is a poet with “a mind both obeying and at one with nature throughout the four seasons.”

There is an attitude, in his poetry,  of awe combined with intimacy, without the customary response to the size or scale of the subject.  This falls, in a large part, from Buddhist philosophy.  Though five hundred years separated these two poets,  and their societies were very different within those five hundred years, they both took the ‘back roads’, long pilgrimages into the countryside, along the great roads and mountain paths to ‘get clarity’.

Basho lived in a time of relative peace.  Saigyo lived when the entrenched Heian (Kyoto) society was falling apart.  His poetry is more reflective of this:  his references before his poems relate to the historical facts of power and it’s dissolving and the madness of society around him as it fails. Nature, and the observance of nature, was necessary to break free of what was now overlaid with conflict, disruption and war.

Nature became the last frontier of hope: and alternative to the agony of the present society.

As I study more of his poems and times, I will be able to weave more of a commentary about his poems….or at least I hope to.  I had promised months ago to present more of Saigyo’s poems and his observations as he traveled.  For now, I can just present his poems and hope that they, in their beauty, will encourage readers to find their own resonance.

These poems are basically of the waka (tanka) style.

Lady Nyo

Closed out the old year

And held a dream of spring behind

My shut eyes…til now

This morning I open them to see

It’s really come into the world.

Seduced by the warm breeze,

My blossoms went off with it

To who-knows-where;

So, loathe to lose them, my heart

Stays here with nothing but my own self.

In my dream I saw

The spring wind gently shaking

Blossoms from a tree;

And even now, though I’m awake,

There’s motion, trembling in my chest.

All so vague:

In autumn the reasons why

All fall away

And there’s just this

Inexplicable sadness.

Scaling the crags

Where azalea bloom…not for plucking

But for hanging on!

The saving feature of this rugged

Mountain face I’m climbing.

Tree-filtered

Patch of moonlight fades with dawn;

Staring at it gives

Loneliness….deepened by winds

Soughing trough pines on the peaks.

Limitations gone:

Since my mind fixed on the moon,

Clarity and serenity

Make something for which

There’s no end in sight.

Saigyo (1118-1190)  A Selection of Poems, from “Mirror For The Moon”

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