Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets


  • Paperback
  • 368 pages
  • Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death
  • Yoel Hoffmann
  • English
  • 25 October 2018
  • 0804831793

10 thoughts on “Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death

  1. E. G. E. G. says:

    AcknowledgmentsPrefaceIntroduction, by Yoel HoffmannNote on the Poems Death Poems by Zen Monks Death Poems by Haiku Poets NotesBibliographical NotesIndex of Poetic TermsGeneral Index


  2. Derek Derek says:

    Yakuo Tokuken wrote, The words of a man before he dies are no small matter This is a barrier that all must pass through Ryuho also said that Only a man s years can teach him the art of detachment and ultimate departure.Apt words Apt words indeed I think that s the main idea of this book, detachment and the enlightenment of ultimate departure So much dread and despair and uncertainty hangs around the notion of death that it s paralyzing This book demystifies death, it s a journey Are t Yakuo Tokuken wrote, The words of a man before he dies are no small matter This is a barrier that all must pass through Ryuho also said that Only a man s years can teach him the art of detachment and ultimate departure.Apt words Apt words indeed I think that s the main idea of this book, detachment and the enlightenment of ultimate departure So much dread and despair and uncertainty hangs around the notion of death that it s paralyzing This book demystifies death, it s a journey Are these Zen Buddhists certain of where they re going Probably not, but they don t make a fuss about it They embrace it, as death surely should be I think everyone should give this book a read It ll change your life Here a couple of my favourite death poems if you have vanquished your selfhood, coolness will rise even from the fire Kaisen ShokiEmpty handed I entered the worldBarefoot I leave it.My coming, my going Two simple happeningsThat got entangled Kozan IchikyoLife is like a cloud of mistemerging from a mountain caveand deatha floating moonin its celestial course.if you think too much about the meaning they may haveyou ll be bound Foreverlike an ass to a stake Mumon GensenHe who comes knows only his cominghe who goes knows only his endto be saved from the chasmwhy cling to the cliff clouds floating lownever know where the breezes will blow them Sengai GibonI came into the world after Buddha I leave the world before Miroku Between the Buddha of the beginningand the Buddha of the endI am not born, I do not die Ungo KiyoOn a journey, ill my dream goes wanderingover withered fields BashoMy one wishis to live in the capitalof non action KibaiA journey of no return the wanderer s sack isbottomless KyoshuI came from nowhere and go nowhereMoon in a barrel you never know just whenthe bottom will fall out MabutsuI cleansed the mirror of my heart now it reflects the moon RensekiLike dewdropson a lotus leafI vanish SenryuYesterday, it was hibiscustoday, my life ismorning glory Shohakufestival of souls yesterday I hosted themtoday I am a guest SofuSpitting bloodclears up realityand dream alike SunaoThe moon leaks outfrom sleeves of cloudand scatters shadows Tanko


  3. Theresa Theresa says:

    In my line of work I meet a lot of people who are close to death In some cases, they have been in a state of declining health for years, yet in all that time they have not confronted the reality of the end of life, either within themselves or with their loved ones In an antidote to the American habit of denying death, Yoel Hoffman has compiled a collection of Japanese poetry written by monks and haiku artists at the end of their lives, a reflection of a non Western culture in which death is ac In my line of work I meet a lot of people who are close to death In some cases, they have been in a state of declining health for years, yet in all that time they have not confronted the reality of the end of life, either within themselves or with their loved ones In an antidote to the American habit of denying death, Yoel Hoffman has compiled a collection of Japanese poetry written by monks and haiku artists at the end of their lives, a reflection of a non Western culture in which death is accepted and discussed celebrated in the company of others He has written a scholarly but readable preface which describes how the practice of writing death poems is conducted in various cultural traditions of Japan Overall an enlightening and moving read


  4. Jonathan Peto Jonathan Peto says:

    I bought this collection of poems a few years ago but had not got around to reading it yet My grandmother passed away at 95 years old on December 19th She lived a long time and remained at her home, by herself, since my grandfather s passing almost twenty years ago Her death was not a surprise, even, it seemed, to her She spent her last day with some cousins and my mother, finished her lunch at a restaurant and payed for it a birthday gift for my mother As usual, she waved from the door o I bought this collection of poems a few years ago but had not got around to reading it yet My grandmother passed away at 95 years old on December 19th She lived a long time and remained at her home, by herself, since my grandfather s passing almost twenty years ago Her death was not a surprise, even, it seemed, to her She spent her last day with some cousins and my mother, finished her lunch at a restaurant and payed for it a birthday gift for my mother As usual, she waved from the door of her home as my mother pulled out of the driveway in her car The next day she did not answer the phone, so my uncle checked in on her She was lying peacefully in bed with her feet on a pillow and her clothes laid out for the next day, the door of her house locked and everything very tidy Very Zen, Grandma, I thought, and pulled this book off the shelf.Grandma was not actually a Zen practitioner, but I believe the monks would give her credit If she had been Japanese, she probably would have composed a haiku before putting her feet up, or at least that s my impression of her last moments.The book has three parts First is an essay about the cultural history of death and poetry in Japan I didn t expect to enjoy the essay, but it was relatively painless and informative I m not a newbie to the topic, so that may have made itpalatable, that and my grandmother s recent death, but the pages flew Basically, in Japan, there s a tradition of writing a farewell poem at or near death To do it within minutes or days of death requires an impressive amount of meta awareness The middle section contains death poems by Zen monks, which are not haiku, and the final, longest section contains death poems that are haiku The haiku poets are generally not monks There are also short explanations and background about many of the poems and poets.The poems, even the haiku, share the worldview of the monks, in that they all write about their imminent deaths with a Buddhist sense of transition, calm, oneness, and acceptance The haiku use seasonal images and symbols to create layers of meaning that form a tradition or ritual way of facing death It is inspiring, I think, because it results in peacefulness anchored with images of nature, but you may be disappointed if you are looking for deep, complicated philosophical explanations and schemes that will enlighten you.The poems include the poet s ages at death and the year That actually had an effect on me, because the poems are arranged alphabetically by name so the deaths range back and forth over many centuries Somehow, as I read, that collapsed time for me in a way I liked Unfortunately though, this many poems eventually got tiring and the explanations grew weary and repetitive Although each poem seemed an effective way for someone to cap their life, they became a little monotonous all at once Here are a few of the poems By Ensei, 1725 p 160 A parting gift to my body just when it wishes,I ll breathe my last.By Gitoku, 1754 p 172 Clear sky the way I came by onceI now go back.By Joseki, 1779 p 207 This must bemy birthday therein paradiseBy Ransetsu, 1707 p 260 One leaf lets go, andthen another takesthe wind.By Saruo, 1923 p 277 Cherry blossoms fallon a half eatendumpling


  5. Robert Bickers Robert Bickers says:

    This is my favorite poetry collection, eclipsing even Uncle Shelby Yes, they are different in style and purpose, but the vessel is the same More than a book of tanka, Hoffman s collection informs the reader about both the writers of the poems and the philosophical world they inhabit Since they are overwhelmingly Zen, I ll stick with the present tense JDP begins with an overview of the wide variety of Zen poetry and the Zen understanding of enlightenment This includes examples from both f This is my favorite poetry collection, eclipsing even Uncle Shelby Yes, they are different in style and purpose, but the vessel is the same More than a book of tanka, Hoffman s collection informs the reader about both the writers of the poems and the philosophical world they inhabit Since they are overwhelmingly Zen, I ll stick with the present tense JDP begins with an overview of the wide variety of Zen poetry and the Zen understanding of enlightenment This includes examples from both famous poets and heretofore unknown authors, lovers and thinkers, priests and philosophers.After this lengthy intro, Hoffman presents a collection of monastic poems Many of these date from the moment of death, showing the incredible self awareness of the writers There is little hesitation or bitterness the monks view death as part of life, to be embraced rather than feared.The third, and longest, section is devoted to secular poets Rather, given the intertwined nature of Zen and daily life, professional poets Not all of these poems are from the moment of death, but all ruminate on the nature of life and the purpose of death Each is presented in English alongside the phonetic Japanese, allowing the reader to understand the flow of both the words and the ideas The poems themselves are carefully curated, presenting both positive and negative perspectives and ranging from carefully planned to improvisational All are thought provoking, some owing to their philosophical complexity, others due to their superficial simplicity Collected together, they are magnificent.This book is not for the passive enjoyer of light verse Rather, it is for those who dive into the briefest of texts in search of greater meaning The writers collected here are easily counted among the deepest divers, even as their verse seems to skim across the waves


  6. Michael Michael says:

    All last words should be poetry


  7. Amelia Amelia says:

    This is really a beautiful book Jisei, the tradition of writing a death poem, is a surprisingly soft tradition The majority of death rituals serve a mixture of psychological, social and cultural purposes and are undertaken at the event of death sometimes shortly preceding death in the throes of dying and are in part for the dead, but are also largely for the living left behind I m not sure if jisei entirely counts as a death ritual, but it s distinctly part of the realm While death ritual This is really a beautiful book Jisei, the tradition of writing a death poem, is a surprisingly soft tradition The majority of death rituals serve a mixture of psychological, social and cultural purposes and are undertaken at the event of death sometimes shortly preceding death in the throes of dying and are in part for the dead, but are also largely for the living left behind I m not sure if jisei entirely counts as a death ritual, but it s distinctly part of the realm While death rituals deal largely with grief, jisei, in using haiku, which is traditionally used as a medium for meditations on nature, beauty, love, and wisdom, strikes a different note If immortality is what is left behind or left unforgotten, then a death poem is certainly one way to achieve it It s something tangible to hold onto, in the minds of loved ones left behind who have a coil of words to recite and unravel left behind by the deceased, or by people like me, who happened across the poetry and enjoyed it The name and life of the person lived on in some small way, right I ll freely admit, if this weren t a centuries old tradition, it might be easy for a cynic to see these as a little cliche Jisei often use the same imagery as haiku, so they often reflect nature and the seasons, all of which are emblematic and further imbued with additional meanings in Japan this book is pretty good about providing context for those as well It means that the death poem is often about ending seasons, waning moons, setting suns, falling leaves they are about death, fading, diminishing, ending But the jisei are often sincere, and while some poems equate to off I go to the end of summer now , some said I wish I said I love you when I could and I was always afraid of dying when I was alive, and it never did me any good, because here I am dying, having never lived Some are quite tongue in cheek Overall, as a practice, I think jisei are a lovely concept, and are frequently beautiful and touching Many are the final words before death I think they are something to carry with you and mull over gently, the poems themselves, and the concept of a death poem and all of its attached meanings This book also had an excellent introduction which provided background to the evolution history practice of poetry in Japan and how jisei arose, as well as some religious philosophical artistic contexts to set the stage It s a book that lingers with me, and I think is one of few that I would curate to keep given only a few choices


  8. rosamund rosamund says:

    I ve been reading this book since August, and have found a lot of solace, insight and beauty within its pages People keep making fun of me for reading a book of Death Poems before bed, but it s honestly been a huge comfort to me This book consists of three sections a long introduction, discussing the history and practice of writing death poems, and what such poems meant to the people who wrote them Then there is a section of death poems written by Zen monks, which are usually five or six li I ve been reading this book since August, and have found a lot of solace, insight and beauty within its pages People keep making fun of me for reading a book of Death Poems before bed, but it s honestly been a huge comfort to me This book consists of three sections a long introduction, discussing the history and practice of writing death poems, and what such poems meant to the people who wrote them Then there is a section of death poems written by Zen monks, which are usually five or six line poems, often directly discussing Buddhism or enlightenment The longest section by far is the last, which contains the death poems of haiku poets from Basho onwards The haiku appear in English with cross translation of Japanese written phonetically in English, and are often glossed with some details about the poet s life or explanations of references in the poem I loved the last section of this book, and found myself returning to poems again and again The poems are not all of equal quality some of them are by people who are not well known poets, or not poets at all, and some poems return to the same images again and again the world of dew , the morning glory, the boat crossing the river, all feature multiple times But some poems elevate even these tired images, and some poems feel utterly unique and create a moment of great insight Quoted below are two of my favourite poems from this collection The running stream is cool the pebbles underfoot Chiboku, 1740I cast the brush aside from here on I ll speak to the moon face to face Koha, 1897


  9. Rhys Parry Rhys Parry says:

    I feel as if I should explain why I gave this book a 3 5 rather than a 4 or 5 Hoffmann s 90 something page introduction is somewhat dense but really goes a long way in giving the reader an understanding how death is perceived in Japanese culture He even does justice to the philosophy of Zen teachings concerned with death and explains the history of the jisei.With that in mind most of the poems failed to resonate with me This is probably a failing on my part I was brimming with frustration I feel as if I should explain why I gave this book a 3 5 rather than a 4 or 5 Hoffmann s 90 something page introduction is somewhat dense but really goes a long way in giving the reader an understanding how death is perceived in Japanese culture He even does justice to the philosophy of Zen teachings concerned with death and explains the history of the jisei.With that in mind most of the poems failed to resonate with me This is probably a failing on my part I was brimming with frustration and found some highly derivative, the Zen priest collection especially Katsu Katsu Katsu The larger collection of jisei from poets did however inject some humor and wit into the collection and a few really floored me.Some reviews have criticised Hoffmann s additional text on the poems but I found my eyes searching those sections for the gravity I was missing from the poem itself.Lovely afternoonI did not finish a bookA book finished me


  10. Calvin Campbell Calvin Campbell says:

    This was a gift.What the hell I m very much alive.


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Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death A wonderful introduction the Japanese tradition of jisei, this volume is crammed with exquisite, spontaneous verse and pity, often hilarious, descriptions of the eccentric and committed monastics who wrote the poems Tricycle The Buddhist ReviewAlthough the consciousness of death is, in most cultures, very much a part of life, this is perhaps nowhere true than in Japan, where the approach of death has given rise to a centuries old tradition of writing jisei, or the death poem Such a poem is often written in the very last moments of the poet s lifeHundreds of Japanese death poems, many with a commentary describing the circumstances of the poet s death, have been translated into English here, the vast majority of them for the first time Yoel Hoffmann explores the attitudes and customs surrounding death in historical and present day Japan and gives examples of how these have been reflected in the nation s literature in general The development of writing jisei is then examined from the poems of longing of the early nobility and the masculine verses of the samurai to the satirical death poems of later centuries Zen Buddhist ideas about death are also described as a preface to the collection of Chinese death poems by Zen monks that are also included Finally, the last section contains three hundred twenty haiku, some of which have never been assembled before, in English translation and romanized in Japanese


About the Author: Yoel Hoffmann

Is a well known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death book, this is one of the most wanted Yoel Hoffmann author readers around the world.