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  • File Size: 4970 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Original ed. edition (April 15, 1998)
  • Publication Date: April 15, 1998
  • Language: English

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Typically 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 intro that jisei have already been interpreted as final credits to politeness and proper social conduct (i. e., they are salutations to those still living), but quickly dismisses this principle by showing how few of these poems are written using the honorific language intended for such salutations. This collection offers us both tanka authored by Zen monks and a larger helping of death-related haiku: for those unfamiliar with the mechanics of those styles, the previous is a 5-line poem following a pattern of "5-7-5-7-7" syllables per line, as the second option is a 3-line composition following a "5-7-5" design of syllables per collection. Neither uses any rhyming convention, even though the vast majority of the words in the Japan language conclusion with one of the five vowel sounds.

Hoffman's synopsis of tanka poetry's spiritual amour is really as accurate as any you're likely to read (he likens the poet person to "a person having two mirrors in his hands, one reflecting a scene from nature, the other reflecting himself as he holds the first mirror (p. 19-20. )" Typically the vast majority of the poems here were noted on dates through the Tokugawa period of Japan (1603-1868), even though jisei practice only really became de rigeur in the subsequent Meiji era. Nevertheless, the Tokugawa-era poems flawlessly reflect the dramatic increase in cultural pursuits - the fabled ukiyo or 'floating world - particular to that time. This collection also shows the fantastic friction between the Japanese heathen spirit of Shinto and the neo-Confuciansim popular through the Tokugawa era: the former's identification with nature state of mind and the latter's more anthropocentric morality sometimes mesh flawlessly in the poems, and sometimes make for bold times of incongruity.

The book's publisher, Tuttle, is the one which specializes in Asian-themed books (travel publications, reprints of classics and so on. ) In their situation, keeping this restrictive coverage towards their choice of subject matter has allowed them to, ironically, release publications that maintain an extremely general appeal. Japanese Death Poetry is one of these: despite the author's careful efforts to describe who published which poems under what uniquely Japanese historical conditions, these epigrams rarely are unsuccessful to transcend time and place. Having said that, there are examples here that would be highly relevant to practicing Japanologists: there are entries from the renowned painter Hokusai (who pictures himself as a ball of blue fire flying in the air), from haiku master Basho's oft-boastful pupil Kyoriku, and from several of the famous 47 ronin [masterless samurai] that inspired so many legends and epic films. Along with the historical perspectives come knowledge of cultural facts that may be unknown to new students of this culture, including the Buddhist convention of providing an dearly departed person a new name, or the metaphorical value of birds like the plover and hototogisu (cuckoo. )

Ultimately, though, the book's main selling point is not its capability to fill the gaps in one's historical knowledge, but its ability to provide fresh, unexpected perspectives on the great, coming inevitability of death. 1 surprise comes in the sheer breadth of wit, from cheeky to mordant, that animates many of these entries: there are, for example, death poems that poke fun at the institution of death poems themselves, and also ones that upset japan notion of reverence for grand masters in any craft: one poet takes the lines of Basho's famous death poem ("On a journey, ill: or my dream goes wandering / over withered fields") and twists them into the irreverent parody "Locked in my room or my dream goes wandering / over brothels. " Elsewhere, the poet Moriya Sen'an unleashes some skillful punning while anticipating a happily debauched afterlife: he or she requests to be buried beneath a leaky wine beverages barrel, with the gag being that the Japan for "the cask will leak" ("moriyasennan") is phonetically identical to the writer's name. When not amazing with comic devices, we can find other times of extreme unorthodoxy in this book, such as each time a character named Shisui comes up to compose a death poem, but simply paints an enso in his dying times (an enso being the basic 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 or she breathed his last. Typically the orthodox entries are no less interesting, though, demonstrating that much sublimity and individuality is possible even when working within the rules, like the advice 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: this might be problematic for anyone who absolutely are not able to handle a good dosage of Mahayana Buddhism specifically (a philosophy in which the "void" is not the opposite of the phenomenal world, but somewhat "the world in all its shapes and colors" itself [p. 306. ]) Issue way of thinking doesn't concur with you, there is plenty of poetry here making no explicit or implicit reference to articles of Buddhist faith. Several do anyway, and yet are not any less effective in their simple poignancy, or their ability to be applied to the lives of any mortal: see for example Sofu's access, which reads "Festival of Souls: / yesterday I actually hosted them / today I am a guest... " Whatever one's desire towards Buddhist thought, many of the stories Hoffman unearths are fascinating and vital- who can are unsuccessful to crack a smile at the story of the poor monk Eisai (1141-1215, a founder of Japanese Zen): he traveled to Kyoto near his death in order to "show people how to die, " willed himself to die while being placed in a meditative zazen position, but then revived when his audience complained that he got died too quickly!

I actually suggest Japanese Death Poetry as a nuanced option to a lot 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 conclusion purpose inspires these publishers' enthusiastic quest to show the particular most blood-soaked side of Japan life and death. A new personal regimen of welcoming aestheticized psycho-terror (or, since the U. S. 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, if you choose tire of that, there are publications like these to switch to, which contain more genuine surprises than many of the books claiming they may shock you out of your cultural torpor. Regardless of whether these compact little jisei are motivated by an inherited Confucian sense of duty, by pure egotism, or elements, the impact of reading them is intoxicating: there is something special about people forcing themselves to contribute to creative life even as death prepares to take them up. I leave the last word to Hoffman here, since he or she shows what it is that ignites this religious defiance:

"... how wise and humane is a culture that does not contrive an otherworldly supreme being to rule this world, the only one we know. 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, encouraging in exchange an eternal world where scent, shape and color never enter [... ] [Japanese nature] is not nature as understood by Western religions, the work of a creator who stands apart from his work, but nature filled with vitality, appearing and disappearing in cycles of life and death, operating system summer and winter, springtime and fall (p. 38-39). ", It is traditional in Japan to have a poem on your lips at the time of your death. Many cultures hold the tradition of ascribing importance to the "last words" of a dying person, but I actually think Japan is unique in attempting to make death a beautiful cosmetic experience. As such, this collection has something for all humanity. Death is something we'll all eventually face; doing this with something approaching dignity is something we can all aspire to do.

Many cultures and religions have a traditions of a sort of happy hunting ground for an afterlife, to provide comfort to the masses of folks who have had a hard life. It is my sense that the Japanese didn't have this kind of tradition in Shinto or Zen. As such, japan approach to the conclusion of life has particular poignancy for modern secular humanists, who also have no "happy searching ground" to expect.

I actually can't speculate whether or not the poems are well translated, or the cultural anthropology was correct, but I found the collection profoundly moving., this book has a wonderful introduction. it is a huge chunk of the book, as opposed to the usual 10 pages or so it's 87 pages! this serves to educate the reader on japanese poetry throughout background it is very useful in understanding and internalizing the poems.

from then on are the poems of yoga monks, many with little mini biographies preceding them that often leave you wishing you could read all about the poets, even more so after you read their last words! some of these poems made my hair stand on conclusion in awe. very heavy and transcendental words.

next is the haiku poets, also truly beautiful and unique., I use loved all kinds of poetry for nearly all of my life, with the exception of the so-called "modern western free verse" form, which I call garbage poetry. My favorite poems are the shorter type (Haiku) which is why I love Japanese beautifully constructed wording with its Zen like approach to writing poetry.

This 366 page book edition is to my knowledge the first book dedicated exclusively to Japanese Death Poems, which makes it unique and highly informative. To those not familiar with death poetry, it was a practice of Japanese monks, Samurai, (warriors) and other Haiku Poets to write a poem right now of their death. One of the many things I actually love about this book is the short biography and age of the poet writing the composition.

This excellent book is well-written and it is clear a lot of hard research went into the writing of this volume. This text is organized into three components. The first part includes the introduction, the beautifully constructed wording of Japan, death and its poetry in the social history of Japan and a note on the poems. The other part covers Death Poems by Zen Monks. The ultimate section has numerous death poems written by Haiku Poets. This quantity also had notes, Bibliographical notes, an index of poetic terms and a basic index.

In conclusion, if you have an interest in Japanese poetry this is one book you will want to add to your collection. I use read and reviewed numerous Asian (Chinese, Japanese etc) poetry collections and it was obviously a pure joy to read the countless poems in this book.

Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Haiku Moments: Just how to read, write and revel in haiku), These kind of poems have to be approached with reverence. I am very grateful that, finally, someone got the courage to move on from the center moving poetry of nature to this particular subject. This is a deeper theme in many aspects, personal, social, semantics, as well as regrets for dwelling this world. It is a very well described kind of poetry which book deserves a whole lot of attention. The viewer will step in the realm of things a little hard to speak about, but we all have items to learn from these poems., great! book is just what I had expected, I actually love the analysis done with the poems. But gave it 4 stars because Part 2 doesn't have the original haiku text messaging, like the ones shown in Part 3.

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Japanese Death Poems Written Monks
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