Let’s Live Cheerfully

Almost as interesting as the poems in Triumph of the Sparrow is the interview with Shinkichi Takahashi. I particularly liked the distinction he makes between the poet and the philosopher, “ The poet deals with absolute truth, offering witness to it directly, experientially – the philosopher relative truth, using strategies of all kinds to assure understanding.”

His statements that, “I am doing what Zen artists have always tried to do – change those who stand before my work” and “Else, why bother, why give oneself the trouble. I say through my work that it is possible for man to be freer than he finds himself, awaken to things he has hardly noticed around him.” are good reminders of why poetry is important.

Of course, at times it’s easier to have someone explain the truth to you than to experience it directly, but Beach certainly creates the sense of confusion that many of us experience in life’s helter-skelter moments:

Beach

Gale: tiles, roofs whirling,
disappearing at once.

Rocks rumble, mountains
swallow villages,
yet insects, birds chirp by
the shattered bridge.

Men shoot through space,
race sound. On TV nations
maul each other, endlessly.

Why this confusion,
how restore the ravaged
body of the world?

Perhaps this poem just seemed appropriate because President Bush was giving a speech justifying the invasion of Iraq, but we seem to be ready to re-experience nations mauling each other live on TV. And here bloggers stand by “the shattered bridge” chirping their own song amidst our mutual destruction.

In case we feel guilty about enjoying life while others die, Takahashi gives us:

Let's Live Cheerfully

Dead man steps over sweaty sleepers
on the platform, in quest of peace.

Thunderously dawn lights earth.

Smashed by the train, head spattered
on the track-not a smudge of brain.

Nothing left: thought-smoke.
A moment-a billion years.

Don't curl like orange peel, don't ape
a mummified past Uncage eternity.

When self's let go, universe is all-
O for speed to get past time

All of these are traps, traps not easily avoided, of course. There’s little we can do about most of these tragedies, but his advice seems the same as Yeats’ advice in “Lapis Lazuli,” where the ancient Chinese scholars climbing the mountain midst all the tragedies are still happy: “Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,/Their ancient, glittering eyes are gay.” Of course, his method may be a little different, for it would be difficult to imagine a romantic writer advising, “when self’s let go, universe is all.”

Though Takahashi advice to “be here, be now” will hardly seem new to most readers, it still serves as a necessary reminder that we cannot let our times destroy the joy that is a necessary part of life:

Spring

Spring one hundred years ago
was very warm: it's in my
palm, such life, such gaiety.

Future is a bird streaking
aimlessly, past is dregs-
everything's here, now.

Thought sparking thought
sparking thought: headlands
pocked by time, the ram of tides.

Rock rising, rock sinking.
No space, what was is nowhere-
a hundred years hence,

spring will be as warm.

No matter what has happened to us or will happen, spring was warm one hundred years ago and it will be warm one hundred years from now. Life goes on. We cannot control the future and the past is merely the “dregs” of what was. Happiness is here and now. Every thing that’s important is here and now. Only the here and now is controllable, so we must fully participate in it if we are to be happy.

What do you think?