Monday, March 30, 2015

Poem of the Week

Shisui's Death Poem

So I'm not one for poetry, if we're going to be straight with each other; I wouldn't know good from bad. However, when I first got into J. D. Salinger, I simultaneously became very interested in the culture of the far east - which probably was no coincidence. What really struck my fancy was the fact that many zen monks and haiku poets would grow old, write a poem, and die minutes later. There was a haiku poet named Shisui, who was asked by his disciples on his death bed to write a death poem. Poor dude just wanted to die, so he drew a circle (it was zen symbolism for flipping the middle finger). Okay, so that last part was a lie. But he did draw a circle, throw his brush away, and die on the spot. It's pretty metal, if you ask me.

The circle is actually one of the most important symbols in all of zen Buddhism, as it symbolizes the void (which is the essence of everything (the realization of which leads to enlightenment)). So it leads me to believe that upon drawing the circle, Shisui was declaring his enlightenment, the visual equivalent of shouting, "katsu."

To include some actual poetry, I'm going to show y'all my favorite haiku poet of all time, who unfortunately doesn't have an official death poem. His name is Matsuo Basho, and he wrote the following gem:

The morning glory also
turns out
not to be my friend.

In fact, to leave off with something I won't shut up about if you mention him to me, here are a few Basho poems!

Teeth sensitive to the sand
in salad greens--
I'm getting old.
Cold as it was
We felt secure sleeping together
In the same room.
Wrapping the rice cakes,
with one hand
she fingers back her hair.

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