“Mirror For The Moon”….A little poetry of Saigyo.


This is a very  little of Saigyo, the Heian-era priest and poet.  Reading, studying Saigyo is like falling into the rim of the Universe: you have no idea where you will land nor what you will learn.  But the trip will  profoundly change you.

In “Mirror For the Moon”, a collection of translations by William LaFleur of Saigyo, one gets the idea that Saigyo transcended the usual route, the accepted and comfortable route of poet/priests of that era.

There were tons of poetry written by many poets, officials, etc. about the moon, nature, flowers, etc.  But Saigyo’s poetry had an ‘edge’, a difference:  his view of blossoms, moon, nature, was not just the usual symbol of evanescence and youthful beauty:  his view of blossoms, nature, were more a path into the inner depth of this relationship between humanity and nature.   He spent 50 years walking the mountains, road, forests, fields all over Japan and his poetry (waka) reflected his deep understanding of the physicality of nature:  all seasons were felt and experienced not from the safety and comfort of a court, surrounded by other silk-clad courtier/poets,  but out there in the trenches of nature.  His poetry is fomented in the cold and penetrating fall and spring rains, the slippery paths upon mountain trails, the ‘grass pillows’ and a thin cloak, the deep chill of winter snows upon a mountain, the rising  mists that befuddle orientation,  and especially, the loneliness of traveling without companionship.

Saigyo became a poet/priest, but before that he was and came from a samurai family.  He was, at the age of 22, a warrior.  He always struggled with his past in his long years of travel, wondering how this  former life impacted on his religious vows.  His poetry reflects this issue.

I have begun to re-acquaint myself with Saigyo and his poetry, having first come across his poems in 1990. There is something so profound, different, that calls down the centuries to the heart.  His poetry awakens my awe and wonder of not only nature-in-the-flesh, but in the commonality of the human experience.

Lady Nyo

Not a hint of shadow

On the moon’s face….but now

A silhouette passes–

Not the cloud I take it for,

But a flock of flying geese.

Thought I was free

Of passions, so  this melancholy

Comes as surprise:

A woodcock shoots up from marsh

Where autumn’s twilight falls.

Someone who has learned

How to manage life in loneliness:

Would there were one more!

He could winter here on this mountain

With his hut right next to mine.

Winter has withered

Everything in this mountain place:

Dignity is in

Its desolation now, and beauty

In the cold clarity of its moon.

When the fallen snow

Buried the twigs bent by me

To mark a return trail,

Unplanned, in strange mountains

I was holed up all winter.

Snow has fallen on

Field paths and mountain paths,

Burying them all

And I can’t tell here from there:

My journey in the midst of sky.

Here I huddle, alone,

In the mountain’s shadow, needing

Some companion somehow:

The cold, biting rains pass off

And give me the winter moon.

(I love this one especially: Saigyo makes the vow to be unattached to seasons, to expectations, but fails and embraces his very human limitations)

It was bound to be!

My vow to be unattached

To seasons and such….

I, who by a frozen bamboo pipe

Now watch and wait for spring.

(Love like cut reeds:)

Not so confused

As to lean only one way:

My love-life!

A sheaf of field reeds also bends

Before each wind which moves it.

(And Love like fallen leaves….)

Each morning the wind

Dies down and the rustling leaves

Go silent: Was this

The passion of all-night lovers

Now talked out and parting?

From “Mirror For the Moon”, A Selection of Poems by Saigyo (1118-1190)


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5 Responses to ““Mirror For The Moon”….A little poetry of Saigyo.”

  1. Steve E Says:

    Lady NYO, I am thoroughly moved by these. Deep, deep poetry which I can understand, but in my understanding…depth is not diminished.

    How can I thank you for this introduction? I’m looking him up right now…..
    Blessings of the Universe!


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Steve!

    Isn’t he remarkable? I was so moved by his poetry, I think it changed me in ways I can’t understand…yet~!

    Look for “Mirror For The Moon”…the first one, and then “Awesome Nightfall”…I like both, but Mirror is a great introduction. We are very, very lucky, Steve, up until about two decades ago, there were no translations of his work into English.

    Yeah…I can’t tell you how they moved me. And even now, I reread them and they unfold with such new dimensions.

    Blessings Back, Friend Steve E!

    Lady Nyo


  3. Katie Says:

    Ah, the strength of this poetry. You have posted this at a time that is very special for me. Thank you for sending me something I need right now.

    This poet’s view of the world outside his own body, his mind, his position in the grand structure, has given us all a fresh way to look and listen. He has shown us the world-without regard for us. We all need a reminder that we are not, in fact, the Reason the World Exists!


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Katie!

    I think Saigyo’s poetry is ALWAYS at the right time…for all of us! LOL!

    Yes, I couldn’t have said it better than your beautiful and insightful words here.

    No, we are not the reason the world exists, but we are very much the beneficiaries of its existance!

    Love, darling Katie!



  5. Anmachsprüche Says:


    “Mirror For The Moon”….A little poetry of Saigyo. « Lady Nyo’s Weblog…


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