A robe of flowers from Arashiyama

From The Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson, translated by W.S. Merwin and Takako Lento. The selection includes a full thirty or so on cherry blossoms, a few of which I give in honor of the approaching season.


Cherry petals float down behind him

Landing on

A monk’s heavy knapsack


A storm of cherry blossoms settles

On a raft pilot’s straw rain cape

A robe of flowers from Arashiyama


Courtesans come out

To see the cherry blossoms

As though they were betting on their next life


I’ve come here to see the flowers

And I nod off among the cherry blossoms

Sleepy for a moment

Two Connected Poems for Temple Librarian Yu

From A Quiet Room: The Poetry of Zen Master Jakushitsu, translated by Arthur Braverman

Two Connected Poems for Temple Librarian Yu


We never exchanged letters or chatted

Only shared phrases of ancient masters

Nothing more was needed

Your old friend with his habitual sloth

Does not inquire into the details of your life


In the southeast the moon shines over the sea

Sky is clear

Arousing thoughts of eternity in noble men

You pluck out a tune on your stringless lute

Who can hear this wondrous sound in the wind?

Carried away by his own mountain emotionalism

From Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country, as Komako begins playing the samisen  (pg 71-72)

A chill swept over Shimamura. The goose flesh seemed to rise even to his cheeks. The first notes opened a transparent emptiness deep in his entrails, and in the emptiness the sound of the samisen reverberated. He was startled-or, better, he fell back as under a well-aimed blow. Taken with a feeling almost of reverence, washed by waves of remorse, defenseless, quite deprived of strength there was nothing for him to do but give himself up to the current, to the pleasure of being swept off wherever Komako would take him.

She was a mountain geisha, not yet twenty, and she could hardly be as good as all that, he told himself. And in spite of the fact that she was in a small room, was she not slamming away at the instrument as though she were on the stage? He was being carried away by his own mountain emotionalism. Komako purposely read the words in a monotone, now slowing down and now jumping over a passage that was too much trouble; but gradually she seemed to fall into a spell. As her voice rose higher, Shimamura began to feel a little frightened. How far would that strong, sure touch take him? He rolled over and pillowed his head on an arm, as if in bored indifference.

The poets of old would have said that the vessel was attacking the heavens themselves

From The Tosa Diary of Ki no Tsurayuki (William Porter translator)

17th day – The heavy clouds cleared away, and the moonlight just before daybreak was very beautiful.  The boat set out, and they went on rowing.  What could the clouds overhead and the sea beneath be compared to?  He rather fancied that when the moon is reflected in the waves and (the sailor) plunges his pole down, the poets of old would have said that the vessel was attacking the heavens themselves in mid-ocean.  He though he had heard something of the kind, but was not sure.  ‘A certain personage’ then composed this:

As I row along,
At the bottom of the sea
Lies the lovely moon;
There’s a bush that grows on it,
Is it that my pole has hit?

Somebody on hearing this replied:

When I see its light
‘Neath the waves, I seem to be
Rowing all alone
Far across the heavenly sky,–
Lone and desolate am I.

and then silence

From Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World by Kamo-no-Chomei

The morning is quiet
and I have meditated much
on the holy teaching.

This is what I ask myself—

You left the world
to live in the woods,
to quiet your mind
and live the Holy Way.

But though you appear
to be a monk
your heart is soaked in sin.

Your home is modeled on
that of Vimalakirti.
Your practices are not as mindful
as those of Suddhipanthaka.

Is your lowly life
—surely a consequence of past deeds—
troubling you now?

Has your discerning mind
just served to drive you mad?

To these questions of mind,
there is no answer.
So now
I use my impure tongue
to offer a few prayers
to Amida and then

The world today has its ways and I have mine

From Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World by Kamo-no-Chomei (translation Yasubiko Moriguchi and David Jenkins)

And so with me.
I know my needs
and know the world.

I wish for nothing
and do not work
to acquire things.

Quiet is my only wish,
to be free from worry
happiness enough.

People in the world
do not build houses
to suit their real needs.

They build houses
for wives, children, retinues.
Or they build for friends
and those around them.

Some build houses
for masters and teachers.
And even for their treasures,
oxen, horses.

I have built for myself,

You may wonder why.

The world today has its ways
and I have mine.

Marquis Chateauneuf du Pape

From Gruppenfuhrer Louis XVI in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum – a collection of reviews of non-existent books:

Nota bene: the abundance of French names in the novel, which bear a striking similarity to the names of cognacs and wines – take, for example, the “Marquis Chateauneuf du Pape,” the master of ceremonies! – undoubtedly derives from the fact (though nowhere does the author say it) that in the brain of Taudlitz there clamor, for readily understandable reasons, far more names of liquors and liqueurs than those of the French aristocracy.

Funny by itself of course but it also reminded me of a story Ian Mckellen told in his one man show last year – of some actor or other playing Henry V without having memorized the list of French dead and instead relying on the list handed him by stage direction.  Unfortunately one evening the list was a blank prop and he fell to fumbling through in the exact fashion, fashioning wines and liqueurs into ad-hoc noblemen.

A Save the Human Race Foundation

From Pericalypsis in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum:

The moderate growth of talent, its innately slow maturation, its careful weeding out, its natural selection in the purview of solicitous and discerning tastes—these are phenomena of a bygone age that died heirless. The last stimulus that still works is a mighty howl; but when more and more people howl, employing more and more powerful amplifiers, one’s eardrums will burst before the soul learns anything. The names of the geniuses of old, more and more vainly invoked, already are an empty sound; and so it is mene mene tekel upharsin, unless what Joachim Fersengeld recommends is done. There should be set up a Save the Human Race Foundation, as a sixteen-billion reserve on a gold standard, yielding an interest of four percent per annum. Out of this fund moneys should be dispensed to all creators—to inventors, scholars, engineers, painters, writers, poets, playwrights, philosophers, and designers—in the following way. He who writes nothing, designs nothing, paints nothing, neither patents nor proposes, is paid a stipend, for life, to the tune of thirty-six thousand dollars a year. He who does any of the aforementioned receives correspondingly less.

I’ve had a similar idea for a philanthropic foundation.

Think of them as the delirium of a drunk or the rambling of one asleep, and listen recklessly.

From The Knapsack Notebook of Matsuo Basho, in Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose Of Matsuo Basho translated by David Landis Barnhill

Among diaries of the road, those of Ki, Cho-mei, and the Nun Abutsu are consummate works, bringing to fulfillment the feelings of the journey, while later writers merely imitate their form, lapping their dregs, unable to create anything new. I too fall far short, my pen shallow in wisdom and feeble in talent. “Today rain fell, it cleared at noon. There was a pine tree here, a certain river flowed over there”: anyone can record this, but unless there is Huang’s distinctiveness and the freshness of Su, it’s really not worth writing. And yet the scenes of so many places linger in the heart, and the aching sorrow of a mountain shelter or a hut in a moor become seeds for words and a way to become intimate with wind and clouds. So I’ve thrown together jottings of places unforgotten. Think of them as the delirium of a drunk or the rambling of one asleep, and listen recklessly.

 I WAS the laughing-stock of the village

From Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology

Tennessee Claflin Shope

  I WAS the laughing-stock of the village,
Chiefly of the people of good sense, as they call themselves—
Also of the learned, like Rev. Peet, who read Greek
The same as English.
For instead of talking free trade,
Or preaching some form of baptism;
Instead of believing in the efficacy
Of walking cracks, picking up pins the right way,
Seeing the new moon over the right shoulder,
Or curing rheumatism with blue glass,
I asserted the sovereignty of my own soul.
Before Mary Baker G. Eddy even got started
With what she called science I had mastered the “Bhagavad Gita,”
And cured my soul, before Mary Began to cure bodies with souls—
Peace to all worlds!