Friday, April 30, 2010

Ryokan, translated by Dennis Maloney

Bob and Susan Arnold of Longhouse Publishers have been issuing a delightful series of accordion-style fold out mini-booklets for quite sometime now, some of which I've taken a look at here at The Hut. Dennis Maloney, of White Pine Press fame, is a longtime Lilliput contributor, whose 4th chapbook in the Modest Proposal Chapbook series, a volume of Yosano Akiko translations, will be coming out sometime in June (along with 4 delayed issues of Lilliput Review). Previous chapbooks were Dusk Lingers: Haiku of Issa, The Unending Night: Japanese Love Poems, and The Turning Year: Japanese Nature Poems, the later two of which come from the famed 100 Poems by 100 Poets classic volume of Japanese poetry.

So it is with some delight that Dennis's volume of Ryōkan poems has arrived from Longhouse. And who was Ryōkan you might ask? According to the "New World Encyclopedia" site:

Ryōkan (良寛) (1758-1831) was a Zen Buddhist monk of the Edo period (Tokugawa shogunate 1603-1864), who lived in Niigata, Japan. He was renowned as a poet and calligrapher. He soon left the monastery, where the practice of Buddhism was frequently lax, and lived as a hermit until he was very old and had to move into the house of one of his supporters. His poetry is often very simple and inspired by nature. He was a lover of children, and sometimes forgot to go on his alms rounds to get food because he was playing with the children of the nearby village. Ryōkan was extremely humble and refused to accept any official position as a priest or even as a "poet." In the tradition of Zen, his quotes and poems show that he had a good sense of humor and didn't take himself too seriously. His poetry gives illuminating insights into the practice of Zen. He is one of the most popular Zen Buddhists today.

Over at Wikipedia, there is a bit of a dust up over the Buddhist monk part, but no doubt it isn't anything the poet himself would be much concerned about. There are, after all, poems to write, sake to drink, and life to be lived.

The Longhouse booklet, consisting of 2 minutely folded sheets contains an astounding 47 tankas, is divided into the four seasons. Ryōkan's simple message shines through poem after poem in translations with a direct clarity that mirror that basic philosophy. Here is a couple of samples to tempt you over to the Longhouse site for this tasty little booklet and lots more besides:

In the garden – just us
a plum tree
in full blossom
and this old man
long in years.

I'm sure there is more but what I think of first is how the old man's years seem so very like the plum tree's blossoms.

What shall remain
as my legacy?
The spring flowers,
the cuckoo in summer
the autumn leaves.

At once in this beautiful tanka, there is the Buddhist sense of oneness and perhaps a touch of the fact that we are all reincarnated a bit in what's is all about us. At least that's what I'm hoping when some of my ashes end up in the garden, some more in the river, and most of the last bit in the bay back home.

Ryōkan too
will fade like
the morning glories.
But his heart
will remain behind.

See previous comment ...

Deep snow outside
bundled up
in my solitary hut
I even feel my soul
slip away as dusk gathers.

The quiet beauty of these verses pervades one's spirit as the experiencing nature does. Not much exegesis, though perhaps there could be some, but let it rest: let me take in the rose rather than pluck its petals.


This week's feature Lilliput Review broadside is #80, from June 1996, entitled spectacles of poverty by scarecrow.

what is meant to be seen and heard
will be seen and heard
the blue of the sky
through a fly's wing
walking on my window
into a cloud.
in the shape of constant sorrow

how much the poem cannot carry
when you're the only one
to witness the pine cone falling.

the camera composed of metal taken from the ore
taken from the stone
beneath the grass
in the meadow
where the lion once slept
in the picture.

now begins
the Future Buddha's reign...
spring pines

translated by David G. Lanoue


PS Ed Baker has tipped us to an interview with Dennis Maloney which is a delight so I'll append it after the fact. All thanks to the bard of Takoma Park.


Ed Baker said...

Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro did a delightful Ryokan via BETWEEN the Floating Mist

included in this (White Pine/Springhouse 1992) edition are many sumi-e drawings/sketches(by Hide Oshiro) AND and intense exchange of poems between 68 year old Ryokand and the 28 year old his friend, the nun, Teishan

there is (also) the Tuttle 1999 edition: The Zen Fool RYOKAN


Burton Watson's 1977 Ryokan Zen Monk-Poet of Japan

three more Ryokan "treasures"
that needs-bee in every library/mind

check out section/run in the Watson/Ryokan book: Kanshhi: Poems in Chinese

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't believe I've met Ryokan before. very nice serene stuff.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, definitely a serene quality about Ryokan ...

Ed, thanks for the Ryokan recommendations - Dennis seems to be working and reworking his early translations, hence the chapbooks of Issa, and the Japanese nature and love poems I've published in the Modest Proposal series. I'll be issuing a collection of Yosano Akiko next month with the new issues from Dennis's translations. I so love her work, too.

Will look into these other Ryokan - thought I had Zen Fool around here but, oh, the piles of books! I do have one called "One Robe, One Bowl" translated by John Stevens. Here's one I randomly opened to:

Today's begging is finished;at the crossroads
I wander by the side of Hachiman Shrine
Talking with some children.
Last year, a foolish monk;
This year, no change!


Ed Baker said...

since "organizing my books
I can't find a damn thing
got an Akiko book of cover a green-ish blue
w image of a lady/geisha

Akiko died a month after I was born...1941

did you know that
she and her husband spent time in DADA Paris! Just imagine a beautiful Japanese girl a poet/artist in 1912 Paris!! WOW.

she may have been Japan's first "feminist"

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Indeed, Ed, an incredible life story. An argument can be made that her poems transformed the tanka form, inclusion of frankly erotic / sensual elements quite innovative and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

as Picasso so aptly put it:

"all art is erotic"

check out

Dream of the Red Chamber

James Michener's The Floating World

Faure's The Red Thread

Chin's The Plum in the Golden Vase. then there is all of those "Tales of ..." and the Chinese classics and even

our culture such as it is has turned the erotic into something dirty...

illicit, "sinful" and extremely PROFITABLE


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Ed ...

Anonymous said...

a nice "bunch" of Ryokan
poems down on the left. notice the translators/interpreters.

there is more to the Teishin-Ryokan story...

I think it is that the=ye only met as he was dieing... she was (then) 33
he 80 after he died she collected his poems/drawings and published them otherwise we would not have them..
she lived until age 75

seems like many/many similar stories as this one... she a nun he a monk

what eventually and w a little luck we shall all be:come?

Anonymous said...

some exchanges between Teishin and Ryokan:

Bob Arnold / Longhouse said...

Good morning, Don ~

lovely to see the little banded-one up in lights! Our thanks all around.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Bob, it's a beauty ... Dennis sent it along and, obviously, I was enthralled.

Ed Baker said...


a recent interview w Dennis Maloney re: White Pine Press just "popped up"

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, this interview is such a delight I will append it to the post, w/ a tip o' the hat your way ...