A Poetic Illumination at the Start of a New Year

1 Jan

[Prefatory Note: At the dawn of the new year, while the bitter embers of the departing year glow in the dark, it is the mysterious outreach of poetry, more than the sobering reflections of the Enlightenment mind, that best touches the raw nerves of the many disturbing realities that menace the human future. In this spirit I came across a few lines of the Zen poetry of the late eighteen century Zen poet, Ryōkan. For those with an interest in further exploration of Ryōkan’s meditative sensibility I suggest One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan, with superb translations by John Stevens, published by Weatherhill (Boston)  in a third edition, 2006.]


a verse from ‘The Long Winter Night: Three Poems’:

 Another year lingers to an end;

Heaven sends a bitter frost

Fallen leaves cover the mountains

And there are no travelers to cast shadows on the path.

Endless night: dried leaves burn slowly in the hearth.

Occasionally, the sound of freezing rain.

Dizzy, I try to recall the past—

Nothing here but dreams.

4 Responses to “A Poetic Illumination at the Start of a New Year”

  1. inst1 January 1, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    Thank you and a better New Year 2017! Inger

    Skickat från min iPad

  2. Claudia January 2, 2017 at 7:15 am #

    Love this poem! All best wishes for the future….wishing harder than ever before….

  3. clementinaceramics January 3, 2017 at 4:47 am #

    Thank you for this and for all your posts..All the best for 2017

  4. Björn Lindgren January 6, 2017 at 7:38 am #

    Dear Richard,

    Thank you for publishing Ryokan’s winter poem.

    When reading his poems, they often seems sad and lonely. And, maybe, they are. But there is much more in his poetry if we are willing to see clearly.

    Another aspect of his poems is that this is how life really is.

    Can we digest this?

    Ryokan was standing on his own feet, declining to take the position of Zen Master in a monastery, living his life as a hermit, practicing zazen (meditation), writing poems, begging and playing with the children in the nearby village.

    Japanese Zen Master Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), founder of the Soto Zen linage, has written in a long letter, known as Genjokoan (Everyday Life Realized):

    To study the Way of awakening, is to study the self.
    To study the self, is to forget the self. To forget the
    self, is to be awakened by all things in universe.
    Awakened by all things in universe, mind and body
    of one self and others fall away. No traces of
    awakening remains. And this life of awakening without
    traces continues without end.

    Now, when the conditions for our industrial civilization are being empitied, can we stand on our own feet, be compassionate and generous, and have courage to see what really is?

    Warm regards, Björn Lindgren

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