Japanese Death Poems

In the death poem (jisei), the essential idea was that at one’s final moment of life, one’s reflection on death (one’s own usually but also death in general) could be especially lucid and meaningful and therefore also constituted an important observation about life. The poem was considered a gift to one’s loved ones, students, and friends. The tradition began with zen monks, but was also popular with poets, whose poems were often just as solemn as those of monks, or entirely flippant and humorous. The poems are often full of symbols of death, such as the full moon, the western sky, the song of the cuckoo, and images of the season in which the writer died. http://www.quietspaces.com/deathpoems.html

The following are a collection of my own Japanese Death Poems (no I’m not nearing death…just playing):

I.

This world has gone dark
With one foot in the next
I see light, peace…your face.

II.

Dark clouds obscure the moon,
beating of my heart slows,
quiets…stills…
the open window beckons.

III.

Stark, cold branches
silhouetted against the moon
point in all directions;
choosing my next path, I depart.

IV.

Torrential river’s rush,
now a dwindling,
drying rivulet.

V.

Love, we still have love!
It remains constant
unlike this temporal body.

VI.

Whippoorwill’s call
at evening’s nigh…life
lifts gently from my
form before dawn.

VII.

Why, death is nothing!
It’s like walking from
one room to another.

VIII.

More there than here,
a sudden burst of energy
hurls you into the beyond,
much like birth.

IX.

The hiker
moves swiftly
over rocky terrain,
boulders, mountains,
but one slip and the very
ground he depended
on meets him head-on
and he’s gone.

X.

I looked around
and noticed people
aging and dying.
The belief was so
strongly embedded
that I followed suit.

XI.

Summer’s heat rising
from the pavement…
has no effect on my chilling form.

XII.

The lifeless state mirrors the deathless,
all is one continuous thread
weaving throughout lifetimes of infinity.

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20 Comments

  1. I love this series of poems on life’s transition to the next plane………very beautiful and comforting.

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    • Thank you, Sherry. I joined a group on FB and it’s fun to read what people come up with and try my hand at it now and then.

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  2. Hi Gayle! I like this a lot. It is quite beautiful. Just playing but such passion in every word here. I like the idea and might take your lead at some point. My first long drive today. Wish me luck!

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    • Hi Renee…thanks so much. For some reason this really appeals to me too. It’s almost haiku like in its brevity. I hope you enjoyed your drive and wish you continued wellness and healing. xoxo

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  3. Beautiful

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  4. Oh, so good to see you, Gayle! Hope all is well in your world. This poem is wonderful. It oozes with the notion of gliding between worlds. And that’s just how I imagine life and death…as you said, moving from one room to the next. Lovely. Really, lovely! 🙂 ❤

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  5. And good to see you too, Lorna! All is well, and thank you! I think we do glide between both when the time presents it. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to set the stage for my own departure so that it will be effortless. : ~)

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  6. Some of these are just stellar. Greta work.

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  7. I love these. Inspiring, thoughtful. Takes away fearful thoughts. Might try to write some. Have to let yours leave my consciousness first. Glad I found my way to you.

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    • Thank you, Barbara. I found a FB page for these and it inspired me to write some of my own. I agree, they do serve to remove fearful thoughts about death. I’m glad we found our way to each other!

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    • It’s more interesting to me than scary. Maybe I’m just preparing myself for an easy transition when the time comes! Lots of love…

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  8. A very interesting thought process ~ I specially like 2, 3 & 4 (like a haiku)~ Gayle, I was wondering if you would like to host a poetics for D’verse? Please email me at: sometimesg@yahoo.com ~ Thanks ~

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  9. I love the idea of writing death poems and relate to the Japanese origine of them. Don’t think the idea is depressing. They felt that as we die we might have some great wisdom to share. I don’t know that I will, but I hope I will be present enough to write one. These stanzas are lovely, Gayle.

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    • I don’t find the idea depressing either, Jamie. Yes, perhaps some great wisdom or awareness is imparted at that exact moment. I don’t know if I will either but it would be nice to be conscious enough to do so. Thanks for reading and sharing, Jamie.

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