Japanese Death Poems

Just finished reading Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death by Yoel Hoffmann.

The death poem is a genre of poetry that developed in the literary traditions of East Asian cultures—most prominently in Japan as well as certain periods of Chinese history and Joseon Korea. They tend to offer a reflection on death—both in general and concerning the imminent death of the author—that is often coupled with a meaningful observation on life.

— Wikipedia

It was refreshing to see how comfortable the Japanese culture once was with the topic of death. I’ve also enjoyed, more than the poetry, the accompanying texts giving historical context to authors and events.

Following are a few poems that did speak to me.

Death poems

are mere delusion—

death is death.

TOKO (d. 1795)

When autumn winds blow

not one leaf remains

the way it was.

TOGYU (d. 1749)

Festival of Souls:

yesterday I hosted them

today I am a guest…

SOFU (d. 1891)

A willow tree in fall:

its leaves will not be missed

as much as cherry blossoms.

SENRYU (d. 1818)

Since I was born

I have to die

and so…

KISEI (d. 1764)

Chrysanthemums were yellow

or were white

until the frost.

GODO (d. 1801)

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