Spring Death Poems (Haru no jisei)

Spring is a time of new beginnings, and happiness. But death is an inescapable part of life. The existentialist, Martin Heidegger, said that it is the finality of life that gives it meaning, and in this respect he certainly mirrored a Japanese sentiment of impermanence that is centuries old.

I shared a number of Jisei, or death poems before. As I said then, I will not share my own, mainly because I am not dying, and therefore do not have my own jisei (There was a time in the late 1600’s when I thought I was dying, and I contemplated whether or not I should compose a death poem, but time passed and I never really needed to…)

These poems come from the book, Japanese Death Poems, compiled by Yoel Hoffman, and I have kept his translation, unless I felt it could be improved upon.

I will start with the poet, Bako, who died on May 1st, 1751. His jisei is about the hototogisu, a species of cuckoo that is appreciated for its beautiful voice. But it is also considered a messenger of death.  It is actually a summer word, but as I mentioned before, jisei do not always follow the season they were written in:

 

furikaeru

tani no to mo nashi

hototogisu

 

Looking back at the valley

no more dwellings, only

the cuckoo cries

 

The hototogisu does not make its own nest, but instead takes over the nest of the Nightingale, and pushes the nightingale’s eggs out of the nest, to lay its own.

Another one about this bird was composed by, Chosui, who died on April 4th, 1769 (my translations):

 

koki usuki

kumo o machiete

hototogisu

 

dark clouds, white clouds passing

I wait

hototogisu

 

Or this could also be translated in view of the Buddhist tradition that clouds appear in the West when one dies. The post-particle ‘o‘ in this haiku indicates that Chosui is waiting for the clouds, rather than simply waiting as clouds pass:

 

Thick ones, thin ones,

I await the clouds

the hototogisu cries

 

Hoyu died at the end of the 17th Century:

 

namu ya sora

tada ariake no

hototogisu

 

Praise to the skies

alone in moonlit early dawn

a  cuckoo cries

 

Namu actually stands for Namu Amida Butsu, a prayer to Amida Buddha. I could therefore translate this as,

 

Namu!

Alone in the sky’s early dawn light

A hototogisu

 

There is an anonymous poem that was supposedly composed by a prisoner right before his execution. I don’t remember Hoffman including this in his book. But I always liked it:

 

sono ato wa

meido de kikan

hototogisu

 

hototogisu

I will hear the rest of the song

in the land of the dead

 

Chine was the sister of Kyorai, a famous poet.  She died May 15th, 1688:

 

moeyasuku

mata kieyasuki

hotaru kana

 

It lights up

as easily as it fades

the firefly!

 

(Hoffman did not include the exclamation point, but that is what ‘kana‘ implies) After her death, Kyorai composed the following (my translation):

 

te no ue ni

kanashiku kiyuru

hotaru kana

 

In my hand,

sadly,  it fades

the firefly!

 

Chora died May 5th, 1776 (my translation):

 

gokuraku to

iute neburu ya

kaya no uchi

 

“Paradise”

I murmur in my sleep!

in the mosquito netting

 

After his death, his wife responded with:

 

ka no koe mo

kanashiki kaya no

atari kana

 

the drone of the mosquitoes

round the netting, too,

is sad

 

The famous artist, Hokusai, who made the beautiful woodblock prints of Mt. Fuji, died on April 12th 1849 (my translation):

 

hitodama

yuku kisan ja

natsu no hara

 

As a ghost

I will wander

the summer fields

 

As spring unfolded, he clearly longed for the green beauty of summer, when the fields have grown and the undergrowth is thick.

Here is one last one—-Kinu died on March 2nd, 1817:

 

yururi saku

kotoshi no hana no

kakugo kana

 

How leisurely the cherry

blossoms bloom this year, unhurried,

by their doom!

 

As I have mentioned before, the cherry blossoms are always a strong symbol of the temporal nature of life. This is Heidegger’s existentialism–the beauty of the cherry blossom, which the Japanese wait a whole year for, yet it lasts for only a short time, before raining down, petal by petal, in one last final show of beauty before the blossoms decay back into nature.  Heidegger would add that, to be truly human, one must break free from the conformity of the collective consciousness, and to stand out and shine as does the cherry blossom. But in this haiku by the poet, now facing the  certainty of death, the sakura shine on, as if oblivious to their own finality. As they begin to blossom they have their whole life as a blossom ahead of them…

(I added the last comma and the appropriate exclamation point, because the emphasis of the Japanese ‘kana‘ is on the final line).

A SPRING STORM

We had a good downpour today. Even had a few strikes of lightning. In fact, the past few days have been quite warm, even getting into the 80’s recently. Spring is here—but Denver can still get a snowstorm this time of year. Each day it is less likely, but it has happened.

If you read my post, THE BELL IN THE LONELY TEMPLE, CLOUD HIDDEN, you might recall that I wrote about a small temple in the mountains north of Kyoto. I had to hike up a narrow trail in the thick forest and bamboo groves to get there, and there was no one around. I was very fascinated with how, as a breeze blew into the temple, a little bell hanging off the bottom of a long scroll or pennant would hit the wall and ring. In a moment somewhat akin to pondering over a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear—I was very fascinated with that bell—–and just sat quietly listening to it, very contented, peaceful—insects were buzzing, and birds were chirping, and yet I was the only human there to listen to that bell. And once I was to leave, I knew it would go on ringing, but no one would be there. As I pointed out in my previous post, no matter what the weather—all year long, whenever there is a breeze or a wind, it will ring.

Thinking about that I composed several tanka today as I was out driving around in the rain:

 

春の嵐也
何回も
阿弥陀寺の鈴は
鳴くが
聞こえる人なし

 

Haru no arashi ya
nankai mo
amidaji no suzu wa
naku ga
kikoeru hito nashi

 

Ah. The spring storm!
over and over
the little bell in Amida Temple
rings, but
no one is there to hear

 

This next one is kind of an experiment, because haiku and tanka have a rythm when read in Japanese. A bad rythm, which is probably more difficult for foreigners to pick up, can make for bad haiku. But in this one I purposely strain the rythm. But the bell itself on that day, had a somewhat slow restrained rythm, as the wind picked up the scroll to let it fall back against the wall, allowing for a few seconds between each ring of the bell:

 

春の嵐也
りん。。。りん。。。と
阿弥陀寺の鈴
りん。。。りん。。。と
誰も聞こえぬ

 

haru no arashi ya
rin… rin… to
amidaji no suzu
rin… rin… to
dare mo kikoenu

 

the spring storm!
ring… ring…
the little bell in Amida Temple
ring… ring…
no one can hear

 

阿弥陀寺の鈴
 
人踏まぬ
山の古寺
春の風が
吹くといつも
呼び出したり也

 

Amida-ji no suzu
 
hito fumanu
yama no furudera
haru no kaze ga
fuku to itsumo
yobidashitari ya

 

The little bell of Amida Temple
 
No one steps foot in
the old mountain temple
but when the spring wind blows
it always
calls out!

 

The Japanese verb, yobidasu, has several meanings, including to call out, call up, to invite, to summon, and even to conjure up. When we add, ~tari, to the end of a verb, it implies doing multiple things. So we could translate the last line to be, ‘it calls out and stuff!’ Or perhaps we could write something like, ‘calls out, summons, and conjures up…!’

After all, we might wonder, if no one is there to hear the bell, then who is it really for—perhaps the statue of Amida Buddha sitting next to it? Or perhaps it is calling out to people to come pay respects, or to come break the loneliness of this little temple at the end of a narrow mountain trail.

Here is another Spring haiku:

 

心配たくさん
雀の子
見る親

 

shinpai takusan
suzume no ko
miru oya

 

There are many worries
–the parents who watch
their baby sparrows

 

Spring is a time when families finally get to go out and enjoy the nice weather after the cold winter months. Sometimes for really small children, it is the first time that they can really experience the outdoors, at least without having to bundle all up in clothes that allow little freedom of movement. Sparrows, like humans, watch their babies very carefully. It is in the Spring that they are hatched, and eventually get to leave the nest, try to learn to fly, and first begin to explore. It is also a time when they can become a delicious and hardy meal for a hawk or an eagle, or even a neighborhood cat.

A sparrow had made a nest on top of the circuit breaker or fuse box on the back of my house. It was fun to watch them hatch, and grow, and the mother work hard to feed them. She was upset every time we walked out our back door, which was next to the fuse box. One day I could hear that the mother was quite upset. It was shortly after my wife had let my beagle out to do her business. I guess the mother was training her babies to fly, I don’t really know how it happened—but when I stepped out, it was obvious that my playful and always hungry beagle had happily chomped all the babies down.

SNOW AND THE LAMENT OF AN ABANDONED HUSBAND

Denver got hit with another snow—I enjoyed it. It started last night and snowed all night, there was heavy wind making it a blizzard—but perhaps not as bad as they expected. It snowed off and on all day today too, but the streets were clear fairly early in the day—-a spring snow so temperatures were not as cold as if it would have happened a month or two ago. But for that, here are some more winter haiku:

 

入り船まち也

遠島の

雪の月

 

irifune machi ya

toujima no

yuki no tsuki

 

Waiting for the boats to return!

the moon and snow

on a distant island.

 

Japan has numerous fishing villages all up and down its coast. The term 入り船まち (irifunemachi), means to wait for the boat or boats to return. But there is the usual wait for family and friends, when they expect boats to return in the late afternoon or the evening. And then there is the real wait—when a boat or group of boats are late in returning to port.

January 1st, 2010, I composed another fishing village haiku. I have mentioned several times that at the beginning of the year—the first time you do something is very special. A fishing boat in a fishing village, is not only a source of livelihood, it is is also dependent upon to protect your loved ones while they are using it to earn that livelihood—so the first time of the year that you go on a fishing boat, is not only special—they make a ceremony out of it with the village—to pray for good luck and a prosperous and safe year. This ceremony is called 乗り初め (norihajime), or First Boarding—-and you do not just come (kuru) to the boat, you ceremoniously-come (Mairu) just as you would to a shrine:

 

波と風も

お参り

乗り初め哉

 

nami to kaze mo

o-mairi

norihajime kana

 

the waves and the wind too

ceremoniously come

the first boarding!

 

Speaking of New Years, and doing things for the first time—-today I rewrote an old haiku that was a bit sloppy—-thinking it over I felt it was better expressed through a tanka. I was thinking of so many poor souls in Japan—–there are many of them—–often they are products of broken relationships, who go on quietly, doing their jobs, living their mundane lives—broken down loners in a very group-focused culture:

 

妻の捨て櫛

と着物に

忘れられた鍵

淋しき

初湯の音也

 

tsuma no sutekushi

to kimono ni

wasurerareta kagi

sabishiki

hatsuyu no oto ya

 

the wife’s discarded comb

and in a kimono

a forgotten key

how lonely

the sound of years first boiling water!

 

Is everyone depressed enough now? Here is one to bring you back up to an aesthetic reality from november 2008:

 

山道也

露霜は

月にちらちら

 

yamamichi ya

tsuyujimo wa

tsuki ni chirachira

 

the mountain path!

frozen dew

sparkling from the moon

 

There’s that moon again—I have written numerous times about the philosophical significance of the moon. For example, you may go back to HOME ALONE ON A WINDY NIGHT WITH A CHINESE LUTE if you forget it—-or not, and just enjoy it at an aesthetic level.

WANDERING STREET MUSICIANS OF 16th CENTURY JAPAN

Years ago when I lived in Osaka, I would go to Takigi Noh Plays in the park surrounding Osaka Castle. Takigi refers to the fires that would burn on each side of the stage while the traditional Japanese Noh play was performed—which many many years ago, would provide the light for such plays at night. They were incredible to see, especially with Osaka Castle lit up in the background.

Here is a concert that makes use of Takigi—it is a tsugaru shamisen concert. The shamisen is a little different than the biwa, or Japanese lute. It is a 3-stringed instrument, that has no frets on its neck. The tsugaru shamisen is a special kind of shamisen that uses thicker strings—because it was played hard and fast. In fact, the tsugaru style was, to me, rock music that was a few hundred years ahead of its time. It was played by a bunch of bohemians—-wandering musicians in 16th Century Japan, who would play in the streets for money and food. I find the music to be truly incredible and creative.

This concert starts with a couple of musicians playing some traditional pieces and then turns into Yoko Nagayama, playing her famous tsugaru piece, Jonkara Onna Bushi. Her song is of a lonely female tsugaru musician, wandering around Japan playing her shamisen in the cold winter. She is apparently following someone she loves, but the affection is not returned—she sings ‘Haru wa watashi nya tou-sugiru‘ (Spring, for me, is too far away), meaning not only how she struggles with the winter, but also suggesting that she has not had sex for sometime (spring can be a euphemism for sex). While a woman’s heart is her weakness, a man’s heart is blown here and there by the wind. In almost every video version of this song she ends the song by looking longingly into the camera (except this one which is filmed more from the corner) singing, ‘Anta ga hoshii…‘ (I want you…). (“I knew it! She wanted me, the whole time she was singing about me—she is following me around, madly in love with me!!”)

I was never impressed with the young Yoko Nagayama (a J-Pop idol), but I am seriously infatuated with the adult Yoko——boy what I’d give to have her as a mistress…!!!!

 

 

I bet you never knew that 16th Century Japan already had electric guitars, clarinets, saxophones, modern drum kits, and other instruments that appear with Yoko. Yep—they were far more advanced than the West when it came to music… …Ok—the song is built from a traditional tsugaru shamisen riff, but I believe Yoko Nagayama composed the words and it is adapted into the modern day Enka style of Japanese music.

Anyway—here are a couple of haiku I just composed yesterday and today, put into the mood by all this music. Anyone who speaks Japanese may catch that this next haiku was inspired by the words of Yoko Nagayama’s ‘Jonkara Onna Bushi’ (the song in the video above):

 

雪ぐもり哉
道に
津軽三味線

 

yukigumori kana
michi ni
tsugaru shamisen

 

Threatening to snow!
in the street
tsugaru shamisen

 

As I said I would in my last post—-here is a Pipa (Biwa) haiku—-and a spring one no less:

 

春風に
乗る遠雷
琵琶法師也

 

harukaze ni
noru enrai
biwa houshi ya

 

distant thunder
riding the spring wind.
the Biwa playing wandering monk!

 

There has got to be a better way to translate that—-monks would often wander around, like the tsugaru shamisen musicians—playing ballads of famous battles and other tales. There are several interesting ghost stories around such figures—-such as the one about the monk who is asked by a spirit to sing the ballad of the famous battle between the Heike and Taira clans in Southern Japan. He fears for his life and to protect himself he paints Buddhist sutra (scripture) all over his body, except his ears. After being moved by the song, the ghost wants to take him to the spirit world so he can always hear the song, but because of the painted scriptures all he can see is his ears—-so he takes those, ripping them off the head of the monk. (At least that is the story as best as my memory recalls).

Speaking of taking Yoko Nagayama as my mistress:

 

春の風
所どころに
浮寝鳥

 

haru no kaze
tokorodokoro ni
ukinetori

 

spring wind
here and there
birds sleeping on water

 

Ukine, means to float and sleep, as on the waves. When you sleep on a boat you—ukine. But it also means to have adulterous affairs—–it is somewhat like the Filipino euphemism of a butterfly, floating from flower to flower. Ukinetori is a euphemism for lovers sleeping around. If you can imagine birds on waves, bobbing up and down, some disappearing behind waves as others reappear. Or think of the Filipino concept of a butterfly going from flower to flower, sticking its long proboscis into the depths of the flower, before moving on to the next one. These are two very artistic ways of expressing these seedier aspects of life.

HOME ALONE ON A WINDY NIGHT WITH A CHINESE LUTE

I am at home alone (the wife’s exercising and I think everyone else is at a movie). There is a strong wind blowing outside, and I have a CD of Chinese lute (Pipa) music playing. Whenever I put on this CD I feel like I can almost taste a very nice cup of Jasmine tea. I would go make some, but I’d have to look for it, and I’m too lazy—I will add another haiku post to this thread instead. The Pipa is known as a biwa (琵琶) in Japan. The CD has such titles, poorly translated as, ‘Chen Hsin-yuan to Pacify the Barbarian/Fall into Courtyard,’ ‘Playing Xiao and Drum Under the Setting Sun,’ ‘A Tyrant in the Difficult Status,’ and ‘A Blossom of Plum.’ These songs are generally classic pieces that were played on the pipa. The title of the CD, is ‘Shi Mian Maifu‘ which means, ‘Ambushed From Ten Sides.’ It is also the title of the 3rd song. This song and most of the others are listed on Wikipedia under Pipa as traditional classics for this instrument. The authors that put out the CD translated Shi mian maifu as ‘An Overall Ambush.’ But shi mian does mean 10 sides, or 10 fronts.

Anyway—-it’s a great CD if you like stringed instruments, and want to set that perfect mood for a cup of Jasmine Tea. Some of the songs are played solely by a pipa, others are accompanied by other traditional instruments.

Here is the song Shi Mian Maifu (Ambushed from Ten Sides) on a pipa:

 

 

But if that is a little too wild and violent for you, here is, White Snow in the Spring Sunlight:

 

 

It’s spring, but Colorado can still get a lot of snowstorms this month (today was over 70 though…). Regardless, winter and fall haiku are my favorites. Here are some more from 2006—I’ll stick a Spring one in there:

 

夜の闇に

寝る町

大雪おこり

 

Yoru no yami ni

neru machi

Ohyuki okori

 

In the darkness of the night

the sleeping village

a blizzard arises

 

At night, as most of the creatures of the day, including man, sleep, they are completely oblivious to the storm brewing up outside their homes. But it wouldn’t matter, we are helpless and weak against the fury of mother nature’s storms. Nothing we can do will arrest its development.

 

夜の森

水の音

みみづく鳴き也

 

yoru no mori

mizu no oto

mimitzuku naki ya

 

Forest in the night

the sound of water.

A horned owl cries!

 

The seasonal word hear is the horned owl—but I cannot say for sure what season that is off the top of my head—-I’d have to look it up.

 

山深し

森にかくるる

冬の月

 

yama fukashi

mori ni kakururu

fuyu no tsuki

 

Deep in the mountains

hiding in the forest

the winter moon

 

~ruru is an older verb conjugation. Here is another one–a spring one–along the same lines:

 

古池に

隠りょうとする

春の月

 

furu ike ni

kakuryou to suru

haru no tsuki

 

in the old pond

it tries to hide–

the spring moon

 

Whenever you use ‘furu ike’ (old pond), it probably calls to mind the most famous haiku of all–especially outside of Japan: furu ike ya/kaeru tobikomu/mizu no oto, or, ‘The old pond!/frog jumps in/the sound of water.’

The moon, as I have mentioned numerous times before, has a lot of meaning to the Japanese. It is a symbol of enlightenment for example. The moon trying to hide in a pond, is an aesthetic interpretation of an experience when, at least for a moment, one has been gripped by nature. It becomes much deeper though if we think of the old pond as a metaphor for the consciousness, and under its surface—the subconscious. As I have stated before, I am not Buddhist, but rather an animist, so I could interpret the moon in ways other than Buddhist enlightenment—such as a deep knowledge of spirit, or the connection to the other side, or even that animating force (what the Japanese would call 神 kami) within each living thing. And the pond, rather than, consciousness, could be that veil between physical reality, and the hidden reality of spirit. There are so many ways that one could experience this haiku—some perhaps, at least for me, touching on that special feeling of 幽玄 (yuugen—-See my post, YUGEN—A SPIRITUAL FEELING TOO DEEP FOR WORDS).

AND—-this is the Spring moon that is hiding, and spring is a time of new beginnings…

The Chinese pipa music however, has got me to thinking about haiku regarding the biwa. Maybe next time I’ll have one or two haiku on that theme.

THE LITTLE STONE JIZO-SAMAS

Here is another tanka I composed in 2006:

 

冬の夜
松の間に
地蔵菩薩あり
ほう覚えろよ
と風がなくの

 

fuyu no yo
matsu no ma ni
jizobousatsu ari
hou, oboeroyo
to kaze ga naku no

 

In the winter’s night
between the pine trees
sits Jizobousatsu
‘Hey remember… remember…’
the wind cries

 

In my previous post, THE LITTLE STONE BUDDHA AND THE LONELY FIFE OF THE RAMEN SELLER, I talked a bit about the jizobousatsu–the little stone Bodhisattvas.  You find them in mountain temples and shrines, and other sacred places in the mountains and countryside. You can buy ones that are anywhere from a few inches tall to maybe a foot or so. Then you can place it yourself on one of these spots with your own prayer. However they are generally considered guardians of children, and children especially need to be guarded in the afterlife. Most of them are placed with prayers for a stillbirth, or an aborted child (which is fairly common in Japan). There is something certainly tragic and sad connected with many of these little statues.

I have seen very old jizobousatsu that are so old, the stone carvings have lost most of their details. Generally each one looks more like a phallus–correction, many of them look just like a phallus.

 

谷風や
そこの地蔵様の
思い出

 

tanikaze ya
soko no jizosama no
omoide

 

The valley wind!
reminding
of the Jizo-sama there.

 

This is actually a summer haiku. The valley wind is a wind that rises up from a valley in the summer. This Jizobousatsu could be sitting in the valley below, or this haiku could be metaphoric for a memory of some sort rising up from the subconscious that reminds one of other, more hidden things, or perhaps that tragic thing one doesn’t want to recall, or at least recall directly…

 

冬霞
谷懐の
古神社

 

fuyugasumi
tanibutokoro no
furu jinja

 

Winter’s mist
the old shrine
at the bottom, deep in the steep valley

 

tanibutokoro refers to deep within a steep valley that is surrounded on each side by steep mountains. Shinto shrines are always painted a bright reddish-orange, and are very ornate and detailed in texture. Can you imagine, deep in a green mountain valley, still crisp and cold from the winter, and snow still sitting in spots, mist rising up everywhere, that somehow the bright (but fading) colors and bits of details peek through from the old shrine—probably abandoned…? Or, perhaps once again this refers to a spot deep in your subconscious–a forgotten spot—-a sacred place.

Maybe it is not even your own sacred place—but that of your ancestors, still sitting there in your personal collective unconscious. It was this part of the psyche, the collective unconscious, that Jung said held the truths, traditions, wisdom, and cultural motifs of all our ancestors. A shrine is a very old structure that goes back even into the distant paleolithic. Even the Neanderthal built shrines with the bones of Cave Bears. If you go back far enough, we all have those same indigenous roots. There is a connection between those messages, symbols, and archetypal meanings buried in the ancient cave paintings, that returns in the myths and symbols of Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Mohenjodaro,  Ancient China, Japan, or even North and South America, and Australia; and that still resonates in the organized religions of today.

Many do not realize it, but that long forgotten, ancient, abandoned shrine buried in the bottom depths of the collective unconscious, is still just as significant today, as it was when our distant ancestors actually used it.

SOME MORE WINTER HAIKU

I thought of putting in some Spring haiku, but we are getting some light snow today, and it has been overcast all day—very wintery looking out there. Here are some haiku from 2006 – 2007 (I don’t think I have shared any of these ones yet):

 

雪雲り

夕方に

町の光や

 

Yukigumori

yuugata ni

machi no hikari ya

 

Snow clouds

in the evening

the village lights!

 

I love how the lights of a village or town contrast against the darkening gray overcast sky of an early winter’s evening. Or in the late evening, after the sun has gone down, glow against the low hanging clouds, heavy with snow. Yukigumori could also be translated as, ‘threatening to snow.’

 

雪雲り

日暮れに

遠寺の鐘

 

Yukigumori

higure ni

toudera no kane

 

Snow clouds

at day’s end

a distant temple bell

 

 

雪の朝

流れ星の

静かさ也

 

Yuki no asa

nagareboshi no

shizukasa ya

 

snowy morning

the stillness

of a shooting star!

 

Most likely this would be in the very early morning before sunrise, though potentially it could be a brighter one in the early light. I have experienced the quiet hiss of a shooting star that many people report (and science can’t quite explain). That hiss is a silence of its own. On the other hand, when they are completely silent, there seems to be something special about that silence too. As it plummets towards earth, you know that a rock travelling at a very high speed, is melting under intense heat into nothing but minute particles of black iron, and yet this climactic event (climactic for the rock), happens in utter silence, and it lasted for only a brief moment.

I actually composed this one after watching a large shooting star fall towards snowy peaks across a mountain valley, when I happened to walk out on a veranda at 2:00 in the morning, while visiting my mom & dad’s condo up in Breckenridge Colorado. This was in October 2007, and I half expected to see one. Because, the year before I had stepped out onto their condo veranda on a Sunday night in October, about the same time, only to see a shooting star. A week later I was up in Breckenridge again and on a Saturday, about the same time, the same thing happened again. That was three times in a row, so I began stepping out more often—but alas, it has never happened again.

 

大雪の

人もなく道

神さびた

 

Ohyuki no

hito mo naku michi

kamisabita

 

A big snow

the road void of people

serene

 

Or another translation:

 

A big snow

the empty road

touched by the gods

 

There are a lot of ways we could say kamisabita, and I don’t know if any of them do justice to the word. Kami is god or gods, sabiru can mean mature, or mellow, but it can also mean to rust, and to be lonely. But it can be a very special loneliness connected to the Japanese appreciation of simplicity and the rustic. Sabi, in the latter case, is one of those words that does not have an English equivalent. Another translation for kamisabita is hallowed. Or, I could also use, ‘filled with the gods,’ for the last line.

 

重い雪雲

支えるか

老い松也

 

Omoi yukigumo

sasaeru ka

oimatsu ya

 

the heavy snow clouds

does it hold them up

–the ancient pine tree?!

 

Oimatsu is simply a very old pine, another word would be the aged pine tree. In the initial interpretation of this, it is an aesthetic experience of the tree against the clouds. But old trees and other old things of nature, are especially filled with kami—the shinto gods. As an animist belief system, everything has kami within it, but the old things have come into their own way with there kami spirit. Perhaps we could say that they are so filled with kami that they outwardly manifest that in the gnarls of their trunks and branches and the silent strength such old things portray. To hold up the clouds demonstrates that silent, god-filled sense of strength. We could take it even further though—clear across Eurasia, the tall straight pine trees seem to connect with the World Tree, the Axis Mundi—-the celestial center of the world that pierces from the underworld, into our world, and then into the upper worlds. It is the portal of the divine, where spirit connects to us, and we can possibly connect to spirit. The big giant cedar pines in Japan certainly look as if they could be such a portal and universal center. I have a book called Nippon Shinwa (Stories of the Japanese gods) which has the only true Japanese scriptures—the Kojiki and Nihongi—-in it, and explores and discusses these very old myths. As I recall, there is a Pillar God who is connected with the creation of the structure of the universe—-and seems related to these old cedar pines.