Raj Arumugam

8 Songs For Sansho The Bailiff - Poem by Raj Arumugam

The following 8 poems entitled “Songs for Sansho the Bailiff” is a series I wrote based on the film “Sansho the Bailiff “ (1954) by Kenji Mizoguchi.
Set in medieval Japan, the film tells the tragic tale of a family that lives by the father’s ideal that one should be just to others, even if that goodness is inconvenient to oneself. The family is separated and endures all sorts of suffering in living this ideal.

1) Zushi and Anju

my son
where are you now?
most delicate flower
where do you rest your head?

strident and strong
are you still alive
and do you
think of your mother?
O son
do you keep your father’s words
and do you look after your little sister?

Anju my delicate love
where do you blossom now?
Your presence always fills my heart
but you are not where
I may hold you, my lovely child

O Zushio
are you with your sister?
do you still care for her
and does Anju grow to be strong
and brave?
O Zushio - is Anju within your shadow
or has fate parted even the two of you
as it has parted us all?

my son
where are you now?
most delicate flower
where do you rest your head?

2) Live brother

Live, brother -
and go now, for
you must go seek mother;
seek her where she is abused
in Sato;
and Oh - what they have done
to our mother, a woman without her man
one cannot know
But O brother,
find mother and give her back her life
and as for me
our masters cannot extract any word
about where you hide and what you intend
and how you escaped
for all they will find
is water in my mouth and in my body
for I will be in water
as when I lived in mother’s womb
But live you brother, and flee
and hide till they think you are gone
and seek our dear mother
and free her
and give her back the life
give her the precious gift of life
the same precious life
she gave you and me

3) Come home to mother

O Anju
dearest children
where are you?
are you well?
has time been
a gentle foster mum
or a witch that eats
children’s hearts?
O Zushio
O Anju
of the just -
do you think of mother
and does your father’s wise words
still reside in your hearts?
O Zushio
O Anju
dearest children
where do you sleep at nights
and what do you wake up to each day?
O Anju
my children
come home to mother
for always I wait for you

4) Way of the just

Yes Sirs,
I know you say
it is easier
to live the life of the unjust
to protect one’s own comfort
and powers and position
and seek to satisfy one’s own appetites
and be one with the group to secure oneself
and keep the less fortunate out
and to increase one’s own fortunes and ease
by increasing the powers of one’s group -
but Sirs,
I have taught my children
and I live what I teach:
Let justice be one’s way
and do good to all
though it may be inconvenient to oneself…

And now, Sirs,
you have come to teach me
for you would do good to none but to your own group
for the good you do your group will protect you
though others may crawl the earth in misery;
but I, Sirs - I find it easier
to walk what you call
the difficult way of inconvenience

5) Satisfy my desires

Come woman
you must satisfy man’s desires
and fill the pockets of your master

You have not learned this
and you yearn after
your husband and children
far removed;
and ungrateful to your owner
you run off from the quarters

It takes time
it takes energy and resources
and money to drag you back
and it stirs rebellion amongst the other girls

It is simple, you see:
you must satisfy man’s desires
and fill the pockets of your master;
and it is even simpler:
you break a rule
we break your feet;
we cut your tendons
so you can never run
You’ll be made useless to yourself
if you are determined to be useless to the owner
And you’ll be an example
to the other girls
an example to inspire fear and obedience

Come woman
teach by example:
you must satisfy man’s desires
and fill the pockets of your master

6) Zushio and mother


O mother
forgive me your son
for I could not bring sister
alive back to you
for time delivered her
into the hands of the unjust
and she chose a lake
as her burial ground;
father died in his exile
and all I bring to you now is myself
with nothing in my hands
for poverty and misery has been the reward
of the just and the righteous;
I lived by father’s words
of compassion and love and justice -
O dearest mother,
and the world proved a cruel master


Though we are left
with nothing the world can see
nothing the world can measure by
there is the love one has…
O Zushio, my child -
and may that love sustain me, you
and may that love sustain all beings;
O Zuhsio, my child
see your life’s journey this way:
May no harm befall any being
may all beings live in peace;
may all beings be happy
and no harm ever come to one
through my deeds and actions

7) Sansho’s philosophy

one comes to this life
and one must seek comfort
and ease and one’s status
and this comes through careful nurture
and meticulous culture;
wealth and power flows from one to another
and one’s ease comes through the discomfort of the other –
the fool must fill the coffers of the cunning;
the weak must prop up the strong
and so this is the secret of life
and one must seek a group that can sustain one
and one must sustain that group too
and so keep all others in place under thumb, toe and fist
and so that the ease one comes to in life
flows constant like the rich living rivers

8) The family

There may be journeys we undertake;
there will be long departures
and separations
There will be pain and agony
and each may be taken
from the other
And yet, yet - O gentle heart
yet the bonds will live and bring back one to one;
yet the bonds of mother, child, father, brother and sister
these bonds will surpass all pain;
and the family, that bond of love
that will live, that love will radiate
no matter what the world shall deal and thrust
into one’s hearts and hands
O hold on to that love
that love of father, son
man, woman
mother and daughter and brother and sister
for that is all, that love is all that lasts and endures

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, February 19, 2011

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