Friday, December 25, 2020

First Days of Spring—the Sky


First Days of Spring—the Sky

 by  Ryōkan


 Translated by Stephen Mitchell

First Days of Spring—the Sky

First Days of Spring—the Sky

First days of Spring—the sky

is bright blue, the sun huge and warm.

Everything’s turning green.

Carrying my monk’s bowl, I walk to the village

to beg for my daily meal.

The children spot me at the temple gate

and happily crowd around,

dragging on my arms till I stop.

I put my bowl on a white rock,

hang my bag on a branch.

First we braid grasses and play tug-of-war,

then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball

in the air:

I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.

Time is forgotten, the hours fly.

People passing by point at me and laugh:

“Why are you acting like such a fool?”

I nod my head and don’t answer.

I could say something, but why?

Do you want to know what’s in my heart?

From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

A poet-priest of the late Edo period, Ryokan (1758-1831) was the most important Japanese poet of his age. His poetry and his character belong to the tradition of the great Zen eccentrics of China and Japan. His reclusive life and celebration of nature and the natural life also bring to mind his younger American contemporary, Thoreau. Ryokan's poetry is that of the mature Zen master, its deceptive simplicity revealing an art that surpasses artifice. Although Ryokan was born in eighteenth-century Japan, his extraordinary poems capture n a few luminous phrases both the beauty and the pathos of human life, reaching far beyond time and place to touch the springs of humanity.

When Ryōkan,on his daily rounds of alms gathering, is hijacked by the village children, he happily puts aside his begging bowl and joins in their singsongs and kickball. And when his behavior arouses the scorn of more practical-minded adults, Ryōkan asserts the deep power and absolute rightness of his joy: “From the beginning of time: just this! just this!” He does not bother replying to the people who ridicule him, but he does tell us where joy can be found: in the present moment. Indeed, Ryōkan’s “just this!” is Zen in a nutshell—just this moment, nothing added, pure consciousness stripped clean of all our self-centered stories and desires. The people who pass by are caught up in reaction, judgment, aversion, just as we all are. But Ryōkan does not judge them. The poem wonderfully dramatizes two ways of being— one that is childlike, spontaneous, open to sudden delight; the other rigid, reactive, always with better things to do than play with children or act like a fool.

The truth of impermanence, as Ryōkan says, is “a timeless truth.” It is not historically or culturally conditioned. It is not an idea but a process, observable anywhere at any time. Buddhist poets of ancient China and Japan have been more finely attuned to that truth, as exemplified in any Hiakus.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020





My husband is the same man who stole my virginity.
These are the same moonlit nights;
the same breeze floats down from the Vindhya mountains,
thick with the scent of flowering jasmine.
I too am the same woman. Yet I long with all my heart
for the thicket of reeds by the river
that once knew our wild delight.

Excerpt From
Erotic Poems from the Sanskrit translated by
R. Parthasarathy

ŚĪLĀBHAṬṬĀRIKĀ was a 9th-century Sanskrit poet. Her verses appear in most major Sanskrit anthologies, and her poetic skills have been praised by the medieval Sanskrit literary critics. 

The above short poem of Shilabhattarika is considered as one of her greatest poems written in the Sanskrit tradition. Indian scholar Supriya Banik Pal believes that the poem expresses the speaker's anxiety to be reunited with her husband. According to American author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, the poetess, possibly a middle-aged woman, implies that the illicit, pre-marital love between her and her lover was richer than their love as a married couple ".[Ref Wiki]

Painting : Raja Ravi Varma, Lady in the Moon Light (1889)

Monday, November 30, 2020

If one could tell one’s heart…


 If one could tell one’s heart…

by Jaroslav Seifert

Translated by Ewald Osers

If one could tell one’s heart:

                       don’t rush!

If one could bid it: Burn!

The flame is dying.

          Only a slipper now,

only a hand,

                only a thimble now

before the key turns, opening the door

through which we pass with tears

for that terrible beauty

                     called Life.

Don’t feel ashamed. Lord Jesus also wept.

Last night the stars shone so brilliantly.


But why should a single blade speak of


When there is grass?

               I do apologize,

I only want a few words.


When I collapsed with pain

and death already was licking its finger

to snuff out

the small red flame of blood,

came the one woman who was closest to me,

knelt down beside me

                 and bent low

to breathe, with her long kisses,

her breath into my lungs, as to a drowned man.


And he, already leaving

            opened his eyes again

and desperately with his hands hung on

to her shoulders and hair.


May be it’s possible to live without love—

But to die without it

       is sheer despair.


Just one more little leaf,

            just one more grain,

only a pinhead’s worth!

So I can just a little longer stagger

In the balmy attraction of womanhood,

which draws us close and leads us away,

          seeks and passes,

urges and restrains,

        strikes down and rises up,

binds and loosens,

         caresses and kills,

wing and anchor

        fetter and ray,

rose and claw to the end.


Poet Jaroslav Seifert was the first Czech to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984. His poetry is worth reading, reciting, and memorizing for its rich texture. He was a poet in love with humanity, in love with nature, in love with cities, in love with beautiful women young and old, indeed, in love with all true things. He lived through two world wars, and two brutal occupations, suffered mightily at the hands of ignorant and cruel men, and yet managed to keep his humanity and his dignity, find joy amidst the cruelties of this world, and live life to the fullest.

This love poem written when he was ill is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The contrary emotions in conjugal bliss is beautifully evoked in the last stanza. I am going to write these lines in my heart:

“May be it’s possible to live without love—

But to die without it

       Is sheer despair.”

Painting : Le Couple by Picasso