“Mirror For The Moon”….a little poetry of Saigyo…and a very little of mine.

 

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 formented in the cold and penetrating fall and spring rains, the slippery paths upon mountain trails, the ‘grass pillows’ (the term which stands in for journey) 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. He had companionship at times. Sometimes other priests, sometimes poets, and sometimes travelling prostitutes, women who went on the road from town to town, generally dancers and singers.

Saigyo became a poet/priest, but before that he was and came from a minor 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?

And in this reading of Saigyo, one can not help but try their own hand at  tanka.

Like the lithe bowing

Of a red maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

 –

The full moon above
Floats on blackened velvet seas,
Poet’s perfection!
But who does not yearn for a
Crescent in lavender sky?

The sound of frog-cries
In the pond floats a pale moon
Fresh life is stirring
An early owl goes hunting
Wise mice scatter for cover.

Cranes wheel in the sky

Their chiding cries fall to hard earth

Warm mid winter day

A pale half moon calls the birds

To stroke her face with soft wings.

I am sitting outside and have just heard this dove, with it’s mournful cry. There is nothing quite so beautiful, nor quite so sad that comes at dusk.

A mourning dove cries

It is such a mournful sound

Perhaps a fierce owl

Has made it a widower?

Oh! It breaks my heart, his cry.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

 

two of these tanka above from “White Cranes of Heaven”, 2011, Lulu.com

Saigyo’s from:

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

 

 

 

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6 Responses to ““Mirror For The Moon”….a little poetry of Saigyo…and a very little of mine.”

  1. Yousei Hime Says:

    Like a wine-tasting. Small sips of good stuff ending intoxicated.

    Like

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hiya, ….a good way to characterize it~!

    Saigyo says so much with so little words.

    Jane

    Like

  3. Spiros Zafiris Says:

    ..hello..enjoyed your tanka of the mourning dove
    and find your site most interesting..Saigyo
    tanka are always a delight too..congratulations
    for all this work..i do not have the energy to
    maintain a site..i leave, below, two of my
    tanka..they both first appeared in Sketchbook
    ..the top one in Sketchbook5-4, JulyAugust 2010
    ..the second in Sketchbook 5-5, SepOct 2010
    ..lovely energy here..>>Spiros Zafiris
    ~~
    she is the emblem
    of my solitude kindled
    with alarming grace
    each candle, every rose,
    is the life force of her glory
    ~~
    falling leaves sustain
    a bleak sadness, only until
    they are embraced
    by the mirth of every wing
    drawing their kindness upwards
    ~~
    ..both tanka (C)2010/2012 Spiros Zafiris
    ~~

    Like

  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Spiros!

    What a delight to read your two beautiful tanka this morning….and welcome.

    Saigyo is quite the inspiration…and so human! One does not expect his voice, but it does…to reach our hearts through the centuries….

    But it does because he writes of such common and viable things…things we could have experienced..things of the human condition.

    Yes, it takes much energy to maintain a website and right now mine is flagging. Vertigo has sapped my strength but hopefully it will pass soon.

    Thank you for offering your verse. It means so much more to me than just a random comment.

    Lady Nyo

    Like

  5. Spiros Zafiris Says:

    ..Lady Nyo..>> I thank you..!..>>spiros

    ~~

    Like

  6. ladynyo Says:

    You are very welcome, and thank you for reading this blog.

    Lady Nyo (Jane)

    Like

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