“The Geisha”, Posted for OneShotPoetry….


Geisha Exit Ritual, lipservice.com

I wrote this short poem listening to Shakuhachi artists. The sound of their intertwining flutes, poignant, heartbreaking, set this poem in motion.  The raw, alien nature of their music was transporting.

There are a few issues to explain.  This is a ritual suicide, (for women, called jigai) not uncommon in feudal and even modern Japan. A geisha, an entertainer, could take lovers, and even become a favored member of a family.  This geisha has decided to follow her disgraced lover into death.  However, she is wearing a kimono that is not ‘proper’ for a ritual suicide.  I think she does this to embarrass the officials. Perhaps it is a personal protest. The tea ceremony is imbued with its own ritual and I link these two together.

Depending on the original offense of her lover, his death and the death of part of his family would restore the honor of the family.  She chose to sacrifice her life for his honor.

A tanto is a short knife.  A woman would not cut her abdomen (seppuku), but would open the main vein in her neck. She would have tied together her legs at the knees, over her kimono, so she would have some modesty in death.

Lady Nyo

The Geisha

Moon sits low

above solemn pines;

the night is cold.

As dawn breaks

the geisha kneels, waiting.

Plum tea kimono wraps

her tightly-

white would be right

color of mourning,

color of death.

Her lover, disgraced,

has embraced


blood the sacrifice

to wipe clean a

particular stain.

She to follow

Honor fulfilled,

death follows death

rigid path of decree-

a life mostly of sorrow.

She opens her gown,

exposes white skin,

her maid, quietly weeps

opens the shoji

exposing a winter landscape-

white snow on rocks

white snow like her skin

soft, soon to disappear,

one to melt,

one to white ash.

Yes, life mostly of sorrow.


winter is silent,

no wind at all,

snow falling like silken petals

Ah! She will never see spring

or cherry blossom time!

Floating over muted,

glassine air

comes the sound-

two monks

playing flutes

to welcome the day.

Shakuhachi artists,

mournful sound,

sound that brings

peace to an anxious heart.

She bows her head,

picks up the tanto-

and opens the vein.

Blood of her line

answers to that

of another.


So full of sorrow.


Copyrighted, 2008,2010

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35 Responses to ““The Geisha”, Posted for OneShotPoetry….”

  1. Katie Says:

    This is one of the most haunting, beautiful poems I’ve read in a while. Your brief prelude to the poem helps those of us not familiar with Japanese society.


  2. Margie Says:

    Just beautifully written. But I think this is why I find the Japanese poetry so sad. I cannot imagine being a woman in Japan – it seems such a sad, hard life – cold and lonely. That’s just an impression and maybe I’m making more of the sadness than there really is. However, the poetry is piercing to my soul. Sad as it makes me, I love reading it. Thanks Janie!


  3. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Hi Margie! Depression R Us! LOL!

    Well, I can’t really comment on being a woman in Japan, but I know a few and have studied some of the culture and history for years.

    Of course, this geisha, is residing in feudal society, or so it seemed to me. And it was a very rigid society, the striations of society were almost in concrete….accept for the Samurai. One could be born a peasant, and become a famous warrior, but the life style tended to shorten life.

    As for women, while the men were outward reaching, the women’s world was inward: the compound, the fields, the struggle for survival, the issues of food, raising children.

    I will venture something here: Japan is a ‘shame=based’ culture, and perhaps the sadness that we see in the poetry and fiction has something to do with this.

    Thanks, Margie, for reading and for leaving your comment. I learn from readers more than they probably know.



  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Katie!!

    I’m so glad you like the poem. I struggled with it, (as you already know…) over the past few days…rewriting, rewording, trying to develop something out of it.

    By the way, your questions made me rethink a number of issues here with the poem. I’ve packed them away, and won’t forget them. Thank you!



  5. Steve Isaak Says:

    Excellent, culture-centric, envelops-the-reader piece.

    One nit:

    But that’s just a typo – again, excellent! 🙂


  6. Laura Hegfield Says:

    “white snow on rocks

    white snow like her skin

    soft, soon to disappear,

    one to melt,

    one to white ash.”

    so rich…thank you for your teaching and for this exquisite poem.


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Oh! Thank you, Laura.

    Sometimes it’s a shot in the dark when you write about other cultures, but that’s where studying them comes in handy…lol!

    I remember one poem….by Ono no Komachi, on the death of her young daughter, where she lamented the fact that snow would fall, and fall again, but the white ash of her cremated daughter would disappear into the wind.

    Something like that…but I remember being so touched by her words. I guess that is where the thought of snow/white ash came from in my forming this poem.

    Thank you, Laura, for reading and leaving such a kind comment.

    Lady Nyo


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Steve!

    I think you are right about the comma. I never get these things down exactly, and tend to miss on a lot of occasions. Punctuation is not my high score.

    I had a hard time writing this. I think we can become too enveloped in our own work and we go limp. I know I was overthinking this poem. Katie Troutman raised this issue privately two nights ago about “why was he disgraced”? I don’t know! There are so many possibilities in something like this….but I elected NOT to give forth a reason. Perhaps that would have clarified but also complicated the poem?

    Thank you, Steve…as always, friend.



  9. marousia Says:

    Beautifully written – I think you have captured the spirit of honour and suicide in Japan. I think you encapsulated it in theses lines:
    “Blood of her line
    answers to that
    of another.”

    The self sacrificing female is such an important meme in Japanese culture.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Marousia!

    Well, reading Ruth Benedict’s 1946 book ….”The Sword and the Chrysanthemum” helped….LOL!

    This issue of ‘giri’ is very strong in Japan…today as much as before….and suicide is not something that we Westerners have in such cultural display. Perhaps that is wrong, but being a shame based society, suicide is seen differently than in other societies. I am going out on a limb here, but I believe this so.

    And then, the binds, bonds between clans….ah! too much for tonight!

    Thank you Marousia, for reading and sending such an insightful comment.

    Lady Nyo


  11. Patti Says:

    This is beautiful, and very sad. I found the descriptions of Japanese culture in your prelogue and comments very interesting. The plight of women there and in much of the rest of the world makes me angry.


  12. hedgewitch Says:

    Haunting piece. I think you did right to leave things vague, vague as the memory of these two dying would become, it emphasizes how the importance of the gesture is really only in the mind, and the dreamlike quality of human life and death compared to the eternal cherry blossoms, the eternal flute music. (As you can tell, your poem really got under my skin!) I liked this very much. Thank you for putting in the work it must have taken to create such a beautiful and cohesive piece.


  13. brian Says:

    lovely work and even death becomes beautiful in this moment of her devotion…


  14. Gay Says:

    I know of these rituals through study also and I love the Shakuhachi flutes and discovered them as a young bride. Their music so haunting is echoed in your fervent words. Very tragic yet very beautiful.


  15. deLiderata Says:

    wow to both – image and words!

    you weave so poignantly


  16. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Gay,

    These things are startling when we read about them. Westerners have a hard time getting their heads and principles around them. But they are part of a culture that is very old and deep. Their mentality is not ours: if the Japanese seem alien to us, they are! And that is fine and good.

    What bothers me is that so many of us have such outrage, especially at the condition of women, but we don’t stop and think of what our own condition is really. Family issues are at such tension here in the states, and of course the world has gotten smaller.

    Yes, the Shakuhachi flutes are very beautiful, but it takes a particular place (mental) and condition to listen to them. They can propel you into another world entirely.

    Thank you, Gay, for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  17. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Brian. Good observation on the issue of devotion.

    Thank you for reading and for being so kind as to leave a comment.

    Lady Nyo


  18. ladynyo Says:

    Oh, Hedgewitch! You nailed it. It has to be vague because to over explain, or to make ‘clear’ to our prying minds…would destroy the delicacy of the moment.

    Exactly! The flute music is eternal and momentary, as are the cherry blossoms. They both are so symbolic of something so very much “Japanese” in culture. There is nothing substantial in them: they personify the fleetingness of life.

    Actually, this poem was ‘easy’ to write: the Shakuhachi music threw me into what I call “Hyperarousal Trance state” and the poem appeared. The harder work to refine it came later, as I struggled with the length of the lines. I love tanka, and sometimes (when I can understand it, haiku) but I didn’t want to use either form for this poem, but something of them, because I wanted there to be a Japanese ‘style’ to the final issue.

    I am touched that this poem got under your skin. This is what, as you well know, is the aim for any poet. LOL~!

    Thank you for reading and for leaving such an insightful comment!

    Lady Nyo


  19. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Patti,

    As a Westerner, (mostly), I find that I am stretching a bit with these explanations to a culture I am not exactly ‘of’. But! That is the beauty of being a writer and a poet. We should have no real boundaries…the world is our oyster!

    The plight of women is agreed, a sad state of affairs, but I see much more destruction in Africa and the Middle East.

    Hopefully, what I write (jigai) is a thing of the past, but I doubt it.

    Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

    Lady Nyo


  20. Eric Says:

    What a cultural education you’ve given us! I love Asian music too… it often has a timeless quality to it, like music emanating from the world itself. Nice One Shot, Lady Nyo!


  21. Desert Rose Says:

    Dear Lady..i am TOTALLY IN AWE here..it is so beautiful..i can’t take my eyes off reading it again and again..it presses soul buttons with so much brilliance and grace. I love Geisha,i find them a very rich concept of all emotions gathered in just a sigh or a nod. truly fascinating your poem..FABULOUS POST..:)


  22. signed .............bkm Says:

    lovely yet so sad, to think disgrace in others eyes would lead us to this…beautifully written – bkm


  23. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Bmackie,

    Well, it’s another culture, and it has it’s raison d’etre. And yes, it is sad.

    Thank you for reading and for leaving a comment. Deeply appreciated.

    Lady Nyo


  24. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Desert Rose!

    Thank you so much for your praise of this poem.

    I read it myself, over and over, critically, and it does push buttons in my own gut.
    I find myself drooping, sometimes crying and I don’t really understand why.

    I love geisha, too, but I also realize, as I am sure you do….that their charms are very, very trained into them. That doesn’t take at all away from the picture, intent or product, but they are not ‘free’ in the sense we know of personal freedom.

    In a way, it’s a form of slavery, and that is why there are so little of them left in Japanese society. Tastes change, and the geisha are going, or have gone, the way of the samurai. Only the elderly now are interested in geisha, or tourists…

    Thank you so much, Desert Rose, for your reading and lovely comments. They go deep here today.

    Lady Nyo


  25. bren Says:

    Beautiful tanka!


  26. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Bren!! Hoped you would read this.

    It’s not ‘exactly’ tanka but could be considered ‘in the style of’ tanka. I think…LOL!

    Tanka is by syllables: 5/7/5/7/7.

    I didn’t actually count the syllables, but some lines might be….hehe. I did want to reduce the wordage, as is done in tanka, etc….and get a more abbreviated form in this poem. So, the intention was something like tanka. (and subconsciously, I might have strayed into tanka territory!)

    Any case, I am so glad you read this poem. I know we share a love of a lot of poetry and that means a lot to me that you read this.

    Hugs and Love,



  27. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Eric! For some reason, you and a few others ended up in my badly working spam file…I am so sorry, and will fire that spam crew!

    I agree with you. Asian music has a timeless quality….unnerving at times, but never boring or elevator music. It’s organic and earthy as you say…Exactly.

    Thank you, Eric, for reading and your insightful comment.

    Lady Nyo


  28. bren Says:

    I do not really count syllables when I read poetry so I guess I should not say tanka. I should instead say it ‘feels’ like tanka. Japanese has only five vowels so rhyming is too simple to be interesting so syllables are used to give a rhythm. I suppose it is that rhythm I ‘listen’ for.


  29. Kavita Says:

    Oooohh… thanks for giving me a peep into Japanese culture…
    It is sad when one has to honor death with death.. but maybe in certain situations, that is the best alternative..
    This was a very beautiful poem.. Sad, but powerful and poignant in its form…
    Kudos, my friend..


  30. ladynyo Says:

    Hi, Kavita!

    Thank you so much, Kavita for reading and leaving a comment. I agree with you: It is sad when one has to honor death with a death. But it’s certainly a cultural thing. In any case, it’s the ultimate sacrifice.

    Thank you, my friend. We learn through our poetry, neh?

    Lady Nyo


  31. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Bren!

    You are exactly right…it ‘feels’ like tanka. LOL!…I struggled with it because it seemed to want to become tanka at times, and that would blow the whole poem for me…at least then. Now? I think I could reform this into a tanka chain. Maybe. LOL!

    And you are very right about the vowel situation in tanka. I hadn’t thought about the issues of rhyming, and except for sonnets, I can’t do that rhyming thing.

    Thank you, my friend…every time we talk, I learn something important from your perspective. I love when that happens, because it’s expanding my education! And I desperately need that.

    Love and Hugs,



  32. dustus Says:

    One of the most interesting poems I have read in a long time. I’m not familiar with the rituals and have learned from your explication and poetry. There is a focused placidity to your lines I always enjoy. Cheers


  33. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Adam!

    Well, I keep the barking- dogs-poetry in the back room. LOL!

    This was an interesting development for me, in poetry. I had just come across tanka, renga, forms…and was struck by the focus of the emotional line in these forms. There’s a spareness to the words because the emotional content is almost overwhelming. How do you portray such an event?

    In a lot of Japanese literature there is an overriding sentiment of sadness. This comes from the Buddhist thought that life is so transitory, fleeting. We see it in the poems of cherry blossom time, and in many other poetry, and especially in the famous death poems of samurai.

    I believe when we attempt to write poetry of a different cultural nature, we should try to understand the form, and more importantly….the prevailing cultural sentiment, tradition, behind the poem.

    I’m learning just like anyone else reading these poems. It’s hit and miss, also.

    Thank you so much, Adam, for reading and leaving such a comment. Next week, I will post (I think…) a companion piece to “The Geisha”, …..”Maiko”, which is very different in sentiment I think. Well, maybe. It’s freeverse, as I remember, but the ‘tone’ of the poem is different in a major way, I think.

    Lady Nyo


  34. June_Butterfly Says:

    Powerful poem about love and honor.Poems like this are very hard to write.You taking time to give explanations about certain words is a very warm gesture.I know lots of people will appreciate it or appreciated it.

    Still need to learn much about the rules of poetry.It’s still a very complex world for me.I envy people like you who know so much about poetry.

    Great one shot,Jane!


  35. ladynyo Says:

    Oh Hell, June….LOL~…I know very little about poetry. I read yours, and River’s and so many other poets here and just drool.

    I’ve really been only writing poetry for the past 3-4 years…tops. I started out as a novelist, but the Japanese tanka twisted me around to poetry.

    I break all the rules of poetry because I never realized there were rules…LOL~ Now I am trying to learn some of them, but they go beyond subjectivity it seems…lol.

    I get so caught up in the research of something…like Japanese culture, or Berber culture, Turkish, that the poetry is an outward release from the excitement I am finding in this reading. I have a lot of issues, like rhythm….but I have learned something from belly dance: Hyperarousal Trance. There is something about this brain activity that pulls imagery together and rhythm, (because you enter hyperarousal trance listening to the repetitious ayoub beat….like a heart beat, and bingo….sometimes the poetry just floats out of that particular ‘place’. I have written a number of articles on this….this brain activity of HT, and it seems only a few belly dancers and some musicians (mostly Moroccan!) know of it. I stumbled upon it and about 4 years ago realized what it was.

    What I have realized is that each culture has a different ‘voice’ in their poetry…or so it seems to me. Persian poetry is so different from Japanese, from Hungarian, from English poetry. It’s the culture that makes that poetic voice. If you read Rumi or Persian ghazals, you immediately see the expansiveness, the emotionality of the voice. Then read a Japanese poem and see the yearning, the restrain, etc. Such a world of difference…at least it seems to me. Identifying those differences makes a very interesting research. And that can be used in our own attempts to form poems.

    I love finding out about cultural things….language, customs, traditions, etc…and am a blabbermouth~ I love to write down and ‘share’ what I am finding out in this various research. So it might ‘look’ like I know a lot about poetry, but believe me….I don’t.

    I think the power of poetry comes from different places…each poet has a comfort zone where they write within….Some are very introspective….I find that hard. Being a novelist, I write poetry from assuming a role….(I guess you could call that character development…) that is the only way I can feel the emotion and create the imagery. At least that is what I think is happening. It’s hard to define.

    But I am amazed at the talent of poets I am reading on OneShot~ THIS is the education right at our finger tips. As I mentioned….I just drool….LOL~

    Thank you June, for reading and for leaving such a kind comment. Like you, I’m learning.



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