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Zen Death Haiku

Rating: 5.0
Zen Death Haiku & Related Oriental Poems

Brittle cicada shell,
little did I know
that you were my life!
—Shuho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like dew glistening
on a lotus leaf,
so too I soon must vanish.
—Shinsui, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Having been summoned,
I say farewell
to my house beneath the moon.
—Takuchi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Returning
as it came,
this naked worm.
—Shidoken, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let this body
be dew
in a field of wildflowers.
—Tembo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Bury me beneath a wine barrel
in a bibber's cellar:
with a little luck the keg will leak.
—Moriya Senan, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Learn to accept the inevitable:
the fall willow
knows when to abandon its leaves.
—Tanehiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I wish only to die
swiftly, with my eyes
fixed on Mount Fuji.
—Rangai, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

All evening the softest sound―
the cadence of the white camellia petals
falling
―Ranko Takakuwa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
the sound of petals
drifting down softly together...
―Miura Chora, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A night storm sighs:
"The fate of the flower is to fall"...
rebuking all who hesitate
―Yukio Mishima, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch; this is said to have been his death poem before committing ritual suicide.

A strident cricket
accompanies me
through autumn mountains.
—Shiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The cherry orchard's owner
becomes compost
for his trees.
—Utsu, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn ends,
the frogs find their place
submerged in the earth.
—Shogetsu, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Since time dawned
only the dead have experienced peace;
life is snow burning in the sun.
—Nandai, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The night is clear;
the moon shines quietly;
the wind strums the trees like lyres...
but when I'm gone, who the hell will hear?
Farewell!
—Higan Choro aka Zoso Royo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I entered the world empty-handed
and now leave it barefoot.
My coming & going?
Two uncomplicated events
that became entangled.
—Kozan Ichikyo (1283-1360) , loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Brittle autumn leaves
crumble to dust
in the freezing wind.
—Takao, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This frigid season
nothing but the shadow
of my corpse survives.
—Tadatomo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My life was mere lunacy
until
the moon shone tonight.
Tokugen, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

"Isn't it time, "
the young bride asks,
"to light the lantern? "
Ochi Etsujin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

With the departing year
I have hidden my graying hair
from my parents.
Ochi Etsujin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I wish to die
under the spring cherry blossoms
and April's full moon.
Ochi Etsujin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like blocks in the icehouse,
I'm unlikely to last
the year out...
—Sentoku, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Once again
the melon-cool moon
rises above the rice fields.
—Tanko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

At long last I depart:
above me are rainless skies and a pristine moon
as pure as my heart.
—Senseki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Cuckoo, lift
me up
to where the clouds drift...
Uko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sixty-six,
setting sail through tranquil waters,
a breeze-blown lotus.
Usei, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Is it me the raven summons
from the spirit world
this frigid morning?
—Shukabo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

To prepare for my voyage beyond,
let me don
a gown of flowers.
—Setsudo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

From depths
unfathomably cold:
the oceans roar!
—Kasenjo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Today Mount Hiei's sky
with a quick change of clouds
also removes its robes.
Shogo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I cup curious ears
among the hydrangeas
hoping to hear the spring cuckoo.
—Senchojo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Life,
is it like
a charcoal sketch, an obscure shadow?
—Toyokuni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Bitter winter winds...
but later, river willow,
remember to open your buds!
—Senryu, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A fall willow tree:
unlikely to be missed
as much as the cherry blossoms.
—Senryu II, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My path
to Paradise
is bright with flowers.
—Sokin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A willow branch
unable to reach the water
at the bottom of the vase.
—Shigenobu, loose translation by Michael R. Burch


But one poet, at least, cast doubt on the death poem enterprise:

Death poems?
Damned delusions―
Death is death!
―Toko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch




Other haiku translations …



Masaoka Shiki

The night flies!
My life,
how much more of it remains?
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The autumn wind eludes me;
for me there are no gods,
no Buddhas
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After killing a spider,
how lonely I felt
in the frigid night.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Such a small child
banished to become a priest:
frigid Siberia!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I'm trying to sleep!
Please swat the flies
lightly
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A summer river:
disdaining the bridge,
my horse gallops through water.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After the fireworks,
the spectators departed:
how vast and dark the sky!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I got drunk
then wept in my sleep
dreaming of wild cherry blossoms.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot see the moon
and yet the waves still rise
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The first morning of autumn:
the mirror I investigate
reflects my father's face
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I thought I felt a dewdrop
plop
on me as I lay in bed!
― Masaoka Shiki, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As thunder recedes
a lone tree stands illuminated in sunlight:
applauded by cicadas
― Masaoka Shiki, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Yosa Buson

Picking autumn plums
my wrinkled hands
once again grow fragrant
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

White plum blossoms―
though the hour grows late,
a glimpse of dawn
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch; this is believed to be Buson's death poem and he is said to have died before dawn

A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated...
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The pigeon's behavior
is beyond reproach,
but the mountain cuckoo's?
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Plowing,
not a single bird sings
in the mountain's shadow
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

On adjacent branches
the plum tree blossoms bloom
petal by petal―love!
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The red plum's fallen petals
seem to ignite horse shit.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Intruder! ―
This white plum tree
was once outside our fence!
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The pear tree flowers whitely―
a young woman reads his letter
by moonlight
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As the pear tree flowers whitely―
a young woman reads his letter
by moonlight
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The abandoned willow
shines
between rains
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dawn!
The brilliant sun illuminates
sardine heads.
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Tender grass
forgetful of its roots
the willow
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: I believe this poem can be taken as commentary on ungrateful children. It reminds me of Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays."―MRB

The dew-damp grass
weeps silently
in the setting sun
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since I'm left here alone,
I'll make friends with the harvest moon.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because I'm alone,
I'll make friends with the moon.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The hood-wearer
in his self-created darkness
fails to see the harvest moon
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Even lonelier than last year:
this autumn evening.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My thoughts return to my Mother and Father:
late autumn
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Late autumn:
my thoughts return to my Mother and Father
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The roaring winter wind:
the cataract grates on its rocks.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Matsuo Basho

The legs of the cranes
have been shortened
by the summer rains.
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A bee emerging
from deep within the peony's hairy recesses
flies off heavily, sated
―Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow has settled
on a naked branch―
autumn nightfall
―Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
autumn twilight
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
phantom autumn
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A raven settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow roosts
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightmare
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: There has been a debate about the meaning of *aki-no kure*, which may mean one of the following: autumn evening, autumn dusk, the end of autumn. Or it seems possible that Basho may have intentionally invoked the ideas of both the end of an autumn day and the end of the season as well. In my translations I have tried to create an image of solitary crow clinging to a branch that seems like a harbinger of approaching winter and death. In the first translation I went with the least light possible: autumn twilight. In the second translation, I attempted something more ghostly. Phrases I considered include: spectral autumn, skeletal autumn, autumnal skeleton, phantom autumn, autumn nocturne, autumn nightfall, autumn nightmare, dismal autumn. In the third and fourth translations I focused on the color of the bird and its resemblance to night falling. While literalists will no doubt object, my goal is to create an image and a feeling that convey in English what I take Basho to have been trying to convey in Japanese. Readers will have to decide whether they prefer my translations to the many others that exist, but mine are trying to convey the eeriness of the scene in English.

Winter solitude:
a world awash in white,
the sound of the wind
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of its autumn migration
my spirit drifts
over wilted fields...
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , said to be his death poem, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of this autumn migration
in dreams I drift
over flowerless fields...
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) , said to be his death poem, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: While literalists will no doubt object to "flowerless" in the translation above ― along with other word choices in my other translations ― this is my preferred version. I think Basho's meaning still comes through. But "wilted" is probably closer to what he meant. If only we could consult him, to ask whether he preferred strictly literal prose translations of his poems, or more poetic interpretations! My guess is that most poets would prefer for their poems to remain poetry in the second language. In my opinion the differences are minor and astute readers will grok both Basho's meaning and his emotion.

Except for a woodpecker
tapping at a post,
the house is silent.
―Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

That dying cricket,
how he goes on about his life!
―Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like a glorious shrine―
on these green, budding leaves,
the sun's intense radiance.
―Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Kobayashi Issa


Right at my feet!
When did you arrive here,
snail?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I toss in my sleep,
so watch out,
cricket!
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In a better world
I'd leave you my rice bowl,
little fly!
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All's well with the world:
another fly's sharing our rice!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cries of the wild geese―
spreading rumors about me?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wake up, old tomcat,
then with elaborate yawns and stretchings
prepare to pursue love
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An enormous frog!
We stare at each other,
both petrified.
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Skinny frog,
hang on...
Issa to the rescue!
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

While a cicada
sings softly
a single leaf falls...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The cry of a pheasant,
as if it just noticed
the mountain.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As I stumble home at dusk,
heavy with her eggs
a spider blocks me.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All the while I'm praying to Buddha
I'm continually killing mosquitoes.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This windy nest?
Open your hungry mouth in vain,
Issa, orphaned sparrow!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The ghostly cow comes
mooing mooing mooing
out of the morning mist
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If anyone comes, child,
don't open the gate
or the melons will flee!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It's not at all anxious to bloom,
the plum tree at my gate.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Our world of dew
is a world of dew indeed;
and yet, and yet...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Full moon―
my ramshackle hut
is an open book.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
can it be true
that even you
must rush off, late
for some date?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
can it be true that even you
must rush off, tardy?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The snow melts
and the village is flooded with children!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't weep, we are all insects!
Lovers, even the stars themselves,
must eventually part.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In our world
we walk suspended over hell
admiring flowers.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Standing beneath cherry blossoms
who can be strangers?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Standing unsteadily,
I am the scarecrow's
skinny surrogate
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn wind...
She always wanted to pluck
the reddest roses
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) , loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Issa wrote the haiku above after the death of his daughter Sato with the note: "Sato, girl,35th day, at the grave."



Other Poets

A pity to pluck,
A pity to pass...
Ah, violet!
―Naojo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch


Silence:
a single chestnut leaf
sinks through clear water...
―Shohaku, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Original Haiku


Celebrate the New Year?
The cat is not impressed,
the dogs shiver.
―Michael R. Burch


Keywords/Tags: Haiku, Zen, Japan, Japanese, translation, life, death, aging, time, pain, sorrow, lament
Michael Burch
Sunday, November 17, 2019
Topic(s) of this poem: death,haiku,translation,zen
READ THIS POEM IN OTHER LANGUAGES
COMMENTS
Mahtab Bangalee 17 November 2019
Having been summoned, I say farewell to my house beneath the moon. —Takuchi (1767-1846) , loose translation by Michael R. Burch/// penned beautifully
1 0 Reply
Michael Burch 17 November 2019
Thanks, I'm glad you liked my translation.
0 0 Reply

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