Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

translated by Burton Watson is one of my favorite recent acquisitions.

Somehow I find it strangely comforting that I share so many thoughts in common with a “Buddhist poet-priest” born in 1118. In this sense, at least, the soul does, indeed, seem eternal, and mankind, no matter what its heritage, shares common feelings and emotions.

I seldom snowshoe or cross-country ski alone, but I often experience feelings of being strangely alone when I’m in the mountains. Perhaps it is the fact that we often travel trails that have not been broken by anyone else or perhaps it is merely the aesthetics of snow stretching out seemingly forever, but, for whatever the reason, I have been attracted to this feeling of being “alone” in the snow-covered mountains for many years now.

How timely
the delight
of this snowfall,
obliterating the mountain trail
just when I wanted to be alone!

Though the snow-covered mountains covered in a comforting blanket of beauty seem strangely suited to meditation, the biting wind can quickly bring you back to experience the reality of a harsh, and at times unforgiving, reality.
In a mountain village
when I'm lost in the dark
of the mind's dreaming,
the sound of the wind
blows me to brightness.
Considering how easy it is to get lost in the wanderings of the mind, all its fears and doubts, it does, indeed, seem strangely comforting to be directly caught by the moment, to see things directly and in new ways.

And, then, there is always the sense of relief at leaving the world behind. Since even cell phones don’t reach the mountains where we ski, there is little danger of the real world intruding on our reveries.
Not stopping to mark the trail,
let me push even deeper
into the mountain!
Perhaps there's a place
where bad news can never reach me!

4 thoughts on “Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

  1. How strange that a reference to Saigyo should bring me on a search for his poetry, to find this beautiful picture of the mountains in snow. Though I feel alone in the mountains, I do not ever feel lonely there … I can feel the oneness there … it all wraps around me .. especially when the snow is falling at night .. I feel protected in the cocoon of nature.

    Your words are wonderful. Thank you.

  2. I don’t live in the frigid north country anymore, but I sure do miss hiking in the winter woods with my dog. I loved breaking new tracks and the muffled silence, and the fantastic beauty of the snow-covered trees. I always found great inner peace and a comforting mental sustenance in the woods, especially the winter woods.

    I discovered your website a few days ago in researching Wendell Berry after a visit to the Land Institute’s Prairie Writer’s Circle, and I think it is fantastic. I trained for High School English many years ago but ended up in the business world. I love poetry and literature, and as time permits, I will read your posted poems and commentary. Thank you.

What do you think?