Japanese Death Poems

July’s Challenge from Hello Japan is about Haiku. We can either write our own haiku or write about books of haiku, or everything related to haiku. When I heard about this challenge, I instantly remember about a book that I’ve read somewhere in 2004, a book titled Japanese Death Poems. It was a compilation of Haiku written by Zen Monk and Haiku Poets on the verge of death. The poems were compiled by Yoel Hoffman.

It’s a long tradition in Japan to write a poem which will be put on their death stone. Here, I chose 4 poems that I like. Why 4? Because 4 is a number that related to death or bad luck.

And to make it more meaningful, I try to write it in Japanese characters (I might make mistakes in some of the kanji because the book only writes the poems in Romaji and the translation, I have to guess which kanji is used for it)

By Atsujin ( 日人) who died on April 30, 1836 in the age of 78.

土 金 や (Tsuchi kane ya)
いき は 耐えても (Iki wa taete mo)
月日 あり (Tsukihi ari)

In English:
Earth and metal …
Although my breathing ceases
Time and tide go on

By Basho (芭蕉 ) who died on October 12, 1694 in the age of 51.

旅 に 病んで (Tabi ni Yande)
夢 は 枯れ野 を(Yume wa kareno o)
駆け巡る (Kakemeguru)

In English:
On a journey, ill:
My dream goes wondering
Over withered fields

By Ensei (延清 ) who died May 16, 1725 in the age of 69

いつ とても (Itsu totemo)
いき 引き取る が (Iki hikitoru ga)
身 の 歳暮 (Mi no seibo)

In English:
A parting gift to my body
Just when it wishes
I’ll breathe my last

By Kin’ei (金英 ) who died on July 16, 1778

極楽 の (Gokuraku no)
種 ぞ 草花 (Tane zo kusabana)
なむ あみだ (Namu amida)

In English:
The autumn flowers
Of my prayer bear
Seeds of paradise

4 Comments

  1. Do you maybe have the Japanese original of this poem:
    “In blossom today, then scattered;
    Life is so like a delicate flower.
    How can one expect the fragrance
    to last forever?”

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