I like many of the poems that LaFleur selected for the last section of Awesome Nightfall, even though he did not include some of my favorites from the earlier collection of Saigyo’s poems I discussed.
In many of these poems a sense of despair is temporarily lifted by some form of natural beauty:
Early summer rains:
no let-ups, no glimpse of sky,
but somewhere inside
this thick bank of clouds a crying
mountain warbler threads its way.
Although I like this poem in its own right, I think I also like it because it reminds me so much of Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush,” one of the first poems I ever fell in love with and which contains similar imagery and theme.
Even in the darkest moments of life there is some faint hope, some faint reason to believe that life can be better, to believe that the human spirit can withstand the worst of times.
A similar theme is found in another favorite, one of many poems that uses the moon as a symbol:
Winter has withered
everything in this mountain place;
dignity is in
its desolation now, and beauty
in the cold clarity of the moon.
As LaFleur noted in the first section of the book, “representations of the full moon or the full moon itself served as the focal point of for extended meditations. … Objectives of such exercises included an enhanced ability to recollect the past, greater powers of memorization, and — in the most literal sense — enlightenment.”
Even amid desolation beauty may be found if we are capable of seeing it. Though the beauty of summer has withered, there is a certain “dignity” in the snow-covered mountains, but mostly in the “cold clarity of the moon.” On another level, a lifetime of suffering can be dispelled by personal enlightenment if we are able to attain it.