THE DISTANT TEMPLE BELL

Do you remember the Chinese poem, The Temple Bell, by Yuan Mei (1716 – 1798) that I posted a while back (See, THE BELL IN THE LONELY TEMPLE, CLOUD HIDDEN)? Here it is again:

 

Ancient Temple, monks all gone
the Buddha’s image fallen

 

The single bell
hangs high in evening’s glow

 

Sad, so full of music…
Ah, just one little tap!
But no one dares.

 

Here is another haiku along those same lines from Oct 2008:

 

冬の山
風に吹かれる
寺の鐘

 

fuyu no yama
kaze ni fukareru
tera no kane

 

The wintery mountain
blown by the wind
temple bell.

 

What image did that first bring to mind for you? A cold winter wind blowing on a mountain temple, while monks, bracing against the elements, ring the bell? Or was it a cold winter wind that rings the bell, in an old mountain temple, long abandoned like the one in the Chinese poem? The fact that the second line, blown by the wind, could refer to either the winter mountain, or the temple bell, is a good example of one of the aspects that gives haiku such subjectivity.

Here’s another haiku, this one from November 2006

 

雪の町
夜の静まりに
寺の鐘

 

yuki no machi
yo no shizumari ni
tera no kane

 

Snowy village
in the silence of the night
a temple bell

 

Yes, I love those temple bells. People who have never heard a Buddhist temple bell echo through the mountains, or across the fields, or even through the streets of a small village—don’t know what they are missing…

This one from November, 2002 relates to my favorite Chinese poem about being cloud hidden (also in that same previous post):

 

雲の中
山の庵に
初雪也

 

kumo no naka
yama no iori ni
hatsu yuki ya

 

Within the clouds
in the mountain hermitage.
The first snow!

 

Though most of us have never actually lived in a mountain hermitage, cloud hidden, I hope you have at least experienced a snowfall from the warmth of a mountain cabin—such stillness!

Here is one from December, 1999:

 

黒屋根に
重い雪雲
火の番也

 

kuro yane ni
Omoi yuki gumo
hi no ban ya

 

Black roofs and
heavy snow clouds.
The fire lookouts!

 

In Japan in the winter, the men of the local community take turns going out into the cold night and walking as a small group watching for fires, and warning the people of the neighborhood to be careful with their stoves and candles and all. Fire is a big danger in Japan, especially in the winter. Probably at least once a week, if not more, you’ll hear of a tragic death in a fire. There are a lot of wooden houses, and when a fire starts, those houses burn quickly. The fire lookouts (or whatever you want to call them), walk around the neighborhood alerting people with two sticks that are banged together making a large ‘tok’ sound. This is followed by a call to be careful—goyou—but it is called out in a fairly slow rhythm in a chant-like, eerie sounding voice by the whole group in unison: (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…” (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…” (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…”

It especially sounds eerie if you don’t know what they are saying or why. In years past they would stay out till late into the night, and watched for burglars and other night problems. They are probably a cry back to ancient times when the little farming villages needed lookouts for wild animals and enemies come to steal grain. Today they don’t stay out too late, and mainly do this in the winter.

Japanese roofs are all tiled in large beautiful black tiles. You can imagine the contrast between those black tiled roofs and the heavy snow clouds above them in the winter sky.

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