Japanese Death Poetry

The concept of life and death is incredibly interesting; what’s fascinating is reading the poems constructed centuries ago by dying individuals. Many of the same sentiments felt by them ring true today; most importantly, that life is but a fleeting dream, and must be lived thoroughly while time exists. Enjoy this great example, written by Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578).

Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake;
A life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream;
I know not what life is, nor death.
Year in year out-all but a dream.
Both Heaven and Hell are left behind;
I stand in the moonlit dawn,
Free from clouds of attachment.

Here is another by Ôuchi Yoshitaka (1507-1551),

Both the victor
and the vanquished are
but drops of dew,
but bolts of lightning –
thus should we view the world.

Here is one written by Minamoto Yorimasa (1104-1180),

Like a rotten log
half buried in the ground –
my life, which
has not flowered, comes
to this sad end.

And a final one written by Hôjô Ujimasa (1538-1590),

Autumn wind of eve,
blow away the clouds that mass
over the moon’s pure light
and the mists that cloud our mind,
do thou sweep away as well.
Now we disappear,
well, what must we think of it?
From the sky we came.
Now we may go back again.
That’s at least one point of view.


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