Death and its poetry

On Thursday morning I ordered a bunch of books from Amazon. Lately I’ve started reading and in some cases re-reading texts related to the Samurai tradition, I’m not sure why other than I guess I need something to immerse myself in. Thursday afternoon I learnt that one of my uncles has passed away, so it was with mixed feelings I received a delivery from Amazon today containing, amongst other texts, a collection of Japanese Death Poems – in Zen they are often referred to as Parting of Life Verses since tradition has it that they composed by individuals on the verge of death. I’ve been reading a lot related to Zen lately and it’s not a secret that I have a bit of an obsession with haiku and also tanka. I am amazed to think of the presence of mind needed to compose the kind of verses I’ve been reading as the last thing these men and women did before succumbing to death.

It feel’s inadequate to describe these verses as beautiful in fact I can’t think of any adjective that does them justice. As I read some of them, I found that they forced me to reflect on recent events in my life, particularly the death of my father, I’m reminded of the pain that I feel and that I know I have been hiding from (something a friend at Talis forced me to confront on Thursday afternoon when he gave up part of his afternoon to see if I was ok, and to whom I am grateful).

As much as it hurts to think about it I find that I’m smiling, my father used to say that no-one could really choose the time of their passing, that it was inevitable and we should not fear it, but what we should do is make the most of the time we have and try to be the very best that we can.

He did and He was.

… and that’s a comforting thought 🙂 .

As for this collection of verses, as deeply profound as they all, one that captivated me the most so far was written by a woman, Oroku:

And had my days been longer               Nagaraete
still the darkness                        kono yo no yami wa
would not leave this world-               yomo hareji
along death's path, among the hills       shide no yamaji no
I shall behold the moon.                  iza tsuki o min.

        -- Oroku

1 thought on “Death and its poetry

  1. And the wonderful thing there are so many fine books on both the ‘classic’ era of haiku & tanka, and modern and contemporary books too.

    For a simple overview of haiku:

    For quality haiku & tanka websites:

    To order the best contemporary book on tanka check out Snapshot Press where you can order the Tanka Anthology via paypal, and also The New Haiku.

    all my best,


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