Monday, April 10, 2006


One of the presents my husband bought me for Christmas was a first edition book entitled Japanese Court Poetry by Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner, published in 1961 by Stanford University Press. I looked through it this morning and found this great poem by Saigyo (p. 261):

My mountain village,
To which I have abandoned hope
That any friend will come,
Would be a wretched place to live
Were it not for this sweet loneliness.

Saigyo, 12th c.

Like the previous poem, this one hits us with a little surprise at the end, one that demands our attention. Part of what Saigyo is doing is reflecting on the joy of solitude, but that is clearly not all that's involved. He lives in a "wretched place" where he longs for a visitor, but he has "abandoned hope" that anyone will show up. His solitude seems to be unchosen. He has no friend, so loneliness itself has become his companion, the one constant, reliable factor in his life.

Is it possible for a seemingly negative circumstance to become a source of "sweetness" in our lives, simply because of its constancy?


cj white said...

The first line sets up an image of a small collection of humble abodes, surrounded by a lush green terrain high in the clouds.

The image is shattered by the second line. Is the village itself abandoned and the author the only one left? Or is the village how the author thinks of his home far away from anyone? Figuratively, perhaps he his referring to his mind and his separation from the thoughts and beliefs of thoses around him.

I was curious to know more about Saigyo and easily found some sites about his life. This poem appears to be quite literally taken from his personal experience of living in huts and even abandoned homes as a hermit.

This poem has such a nice simple form. It is comfortable to read, the lines flow easily from one to the other. I almost feel like I am meditating as I read it.

Amy said...

Thanks for the Saigyo links, White. I do not have a meditative experience when I read this poem, because I am too distracted by wondering if loneliness can be a "sweet" companion. I suppose if, like Saigyo, you purposefully removed yourself from society, that may be the case. It seemed to work for Thoreau, too.