More Saigyo Poems

Although there are too many of Saigyo’s poems that I found delightful and enlightening to include here, the three following poems represent an important theme in Saigyo’s poems as translated in La Fluer’s Awesome Nightfall.

Although I certainly appreciate Saigyo’s gloomier poems with their sense of temporariness:

The sound of a swollen
mountain stream rapidly rushing
makes one know
how very quickly life itself
is pressed along its course.

and the accompanying sense of inevitable loss for they also reflect the kind of wisdom that age itself reveals if we listen to it. The older you get the greater your sense that life rushes by much too quickly.

However, my favorite poems are the more optimistic ones where at times Saigyo seems to have attained enlightenment. Though these poems recognize the fleeting nature of life, they subtly shift the emphasis to an appreciation of beauty, no matter how fleeting it may be:

Now seen … now gone
the butterfly flits in and out
through fence-hung flowers;
but a life lived so close to them
I envy though it’s here and gone.

Of course, it may be that this particular poem appeals to me because of my recent obsession with getting a good picture of a Monarch butterfly and with my increased attention to butterflies in general this year. It’s almost as if I only realized that butterflies existed this year after ignoring them most of my life.

I also appreciate what could certainly be Taoist elements in his poetry, as in the following poem:

Tightly held by rocks
through winter, the ice today
begins to come undone:
a way-seeker also is the water,
melting, murmuring from the moss.

While excellent in their own right, such poems remind me of Lao Tzu’s wonderful water-metaphors with their emphasis on finding The Way. Of course, the same could be said for Saigyo’s consistent use of the moon as a symbol, one of the elements Red Pine emphasized in his translation of The Taoteching.

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