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Death of the Poet (Japanese Edition)

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.

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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. Feb 03, Jonathan Peto rated it liked it Shelves: 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. 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. 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. The book has three parts. 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.


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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, p. By Gitoku, p. By Joseki, p.


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By Saruo, p. Jun 30, Theresa rated it it was amazing. 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.

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. I wish to die in spring, beneath the cherry blossoms, while the springtime moon is full. My coming, my going— Two simple happenings That got entangled. Jan 26, Rhys Parry rated it liked it. 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.

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 afternoon I did not finish a book A book finished me Dec 23, Michael added it. All last words should be poetry Jan 03, Parwana rated it really liked it Shelves: Enjoyed the death poems written by zen monks better than haiku poets.

Dec 03, Kamen Nedev rated it it was amazing Shelves: I wonder where the winds of winter drive the rainclouds Feb 03, Melissa rated it really liked it Shelves: I love poetry but haiku poems I never really enjoyed. Though this book sounded interesting the fact I would be reading over pages of haiku poems did make wonder if it would be worth it. Well it was worth it. The introduction helped explained the poetry and the history while also discussing Japanese history, beliefs, customs, and death rites. Then there was the chapter on haiku poems by Zen monks and on many he discusses the life and death of the monk and what the poem means.

My favorite sect I love poetry but haiku poems I never really enjoyed.

Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death - Google Книги

My favorite section was the one of poems by haiku poets. The author wrote the poem in English and next to it wroye the original in Japanese.

Many of them the author tells you what the Japanese words mean or could mean if there can be multiple meanings and tells you about the meaning and sometimes the poet. I still do not really like haiku poetry but this book helped me see that each haiku poem has more depth and meaning then the few lines that create the poem. Jan 20, Caroline rated it it was amazing.

First read this a couple years ago, and since then I regularly pick it up. The history of Death Poetry is fascinating--do not skip the Introduction!

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The tanka form, for me, is particularly addictive. View all 3 comments. Dec 18, Mark Robison rated it liked it. I like contemplating death, I love Zen, and I really love haiku.

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Most of the poems a I like contemplating death, I love Zen, and I really love haiku. Please try again later. The death poem, or jisei in Japanese, is expected to be composed in addition to a last will and testament. This book's masterful compiler, Yoel Hoffmann, notes in his introduction that jisei have been interpreted as final concessions to politeness and proper social conduct i. This collection offers us both tanka written by Zen monks and a larger helping of death-related haiku: Neither uses any rhyming convention, even though the vast majority of the words in the Japanese language end with one of the five vowel sounds.

Jisei: the Japanese Death Poem

Hoffman's synopsis of tanka poetry's spiritual inclinations is as accurate as any you're likely to read he likens the poet to "a person holding two mirrors in his hands, one reflecting a scene from nature, the other reflecting himself as he holds the first mirror p. Nevertheless, the Tokugawa-era poems perfectly reflect the dramatic increase in cultural pursuits - the fabled ukiyo or 'floating world - particular to that time.

This collection also shows the great friction between the Japanese heathen spirit of Shinto and the neo-Confuciansim popular during the Tokugawa era: The book's publisher, Tuttle, is one that specializes in Asian-themed books travel journals, reprints of classics etc. In their case, keeping this restrictive policy towards their choice of subject matter has allowed them to, ironically, release books that maintain a very universal appeal. Japanese Death Poems is one of these: Having said that, there are examples here that would be highly relevant to practicing Japanologists: Along with the historical perspectives come knowledge of cultural facts that may be unknown to new students of this culture, such as the Buddhist convention of giving a deceased person a new name, or the metaphorical significance of birds like the plover and hototogisu cuckoo.

Ultimately, though, the book's main selling point is not its ability to fill the gaps in one's historical knowledge, but its ability to provide fresh, unexpected perspectives on the great, creeping inevitability of death. One surprise comes in the sheer breadth of humor, from cheeky to mordant, that animates many of these entries: When not surprising with comic devices, we can find other moments of extreme unorthodoxy in this book, such as when a character named Shisui is asked to compose a death poem, but merely paints an enso in his dying moments an enso being the plain black circle characteristic to Zen Buddhism, symbolizing 'void as essence' and enlightenment.

The Zen monk Takuan Soho chose a similar method, painting the Chinese character for "dream" in lieu of a death poem as he breathed his last. The orthodox entries are no less interesting, though, showing that much sublimity and individuality is possible even when working within the rules, like the suggestion that death poems should include a seasonal image from the time in which the writer is dying.

Buddhist ethics and views on eternity do, naturally, color much of the poetry in this volume: Some do anyway, and yet are no less effective in their simple poignancy, or their ability to be applied to the lives of any mortal: I highly recommend Japanese Death Poems as a nuanced alternative to the more sensationalist when not inaccurate or outright fabricated "dark side of Japan" material.

Given, the libidinous extremes uncovered by those other accounts are mind-altering when produced properly, but I often wonder what end purpose motivates these publishers' enthusiastic quest to show only the most blood-soaked side of Japanese life and death. A personal regimen of welcoming aestheticized psycho-terror or, as the U. Marines call it, "embracing the suck" works to a certain degree, but unchecked death drive produces vastly diminishing returns when taken on as a ful-time way of life. So, when you do tire of that, there are books like these to turn to, which contain more genuine surprises than many of the books claiming they will shock you out of your cultural torpor.

Whether these compact little jisei are motivated by an inherited Confucian sense of duty, by pure egotism, or other factors, the effect of reading them all is intoxicating: I leave the last word to Hoffman here, since he shows what it is that ignites this spiritual defiance: One might ask what there is to be gained from a 'spiritual' sovereign who disturbs the peace of man with commands to act one way or another, promising in exchange an eternal world where scent, shape and color never enter [ Kindle Edition Verified Purchase.

Educational, moving, and considering that they are Death Poems, enjoyable. The notes with each poem are very succinct and enlightening. I wonder if these writers would have imagined that there last Poems before death would be available centuries later for 1. Everything is an illusion. I really enjoyed this book. It's a very interesting compilation of poems and often the backstories of the individuals writing them.

The different perspectives and insights on death as expressed in poetry was a neat look into another culture. One person found this helpful. It is traditional in Japan to have a poem on your lips at the time of your death. These poems became associated with the literate, spiritual, and ruling segments of society, as they were customarily composed by a poet, warrior, nobleman, or Buddhist monk.

The writing of a poem at the time of one's death and reflecting on the nature of death in an impermanent, transitory world is unique to East Asian culture. From its inception, Buddhism has stressed the importance of death because awareness of death is what prompted the Buddha to perceive the ultimate futility of worldly concerns and pleasures. A death poem exemplifies both the "eternal loneliness" that is found at the heart of Zen and the search for a new viewpoint, a new way of looking at life and things generally, or a version of enlightenment satori in Japanese; wu in Chinese.

According to comparative religion scholar Julia Ching , Japanese Buddhism "is so closely associated with the memory of the dead and the ancestral cult that the family shrines dedicated to the ancestors, and still occupying a place of honor in homes, are popularly called the Butsudan , literally 'the Buddhist altars'. It has been the custom in modern Japan to have Shinto weddings , but to turn to Buddhism in times of bereavement and for funeral services". The writing of a death poem was limited to the society's literate class, ruling class, samurai, and monks.

It was introduced to Western audiences during World War II when Japanese soldiers, emboldened by their culture's samurai legacy, would write poems before suicidal missions or battles. The poem's structure can be in one of many forms, including the two traditional forms in Japanese literature: Poetry has long been a core part of Japanese tradition.

Death poems are typically graceful, natural, and emotionally neutral, in accordance with the teachings of Buddhism and Shinto. Excepting the earliest works of this tradition, it has been considered inappropriate to mention death explicitly; rather, metaphorical references such as sunsets, autumn or falling cherry blossom suggest the transience of life. It was an ancient custom in Japan for literate persons to compose a jisei on their deathbed.

The custom has continued into modern Japan. Some people left their death poems in multiple forms. In the message, General Kuribayashi apologized for failing to successfully defend Iwo Jima against the overwhelming forces of the United States military. At the same time, however, he expressed great pride in the heroism of his men, who, starving and thirsty, had been reduced to fighting with rifle butts and fists. He closed the message with three traditional death poems in waka form. But unless I smite the enemy, My body cannot rot in the field.

Yea, I shall be born again seven times And grasp the sword in my hand. When ugly weeds cover this island, My sole thought shall be [the future of] the Imperial Land. In , writer Yukio Mishima and his disciple Masakatsu Morita composed death poems before their attempted coup at the Ichigaya garrison in Tokyo, where they committed the ritual suicide of Seppuku.