<< back to Teachings as part of Norman's Books and Writing

Versions of Saigyo

By Norman Fischer | Jan 01, 2000
Norman's own versions of poems by this first and foremost of Japanese Buddhist poets, precursor of Basho.


People disappear like factory clouds
Slowly at first but now with the speed of a cloak
I am reminded that life is a dream, does dissolve
And sit at the window in shock staring at the smoke

How good it is
For the body to cry
Until it becomes a lake

Into which the heart
(A dark lump)
Pulls the moon down

At last I’m at the temple
Rid of all my problems
Quit of all my cares
The deep bell echoes
Fierce wind blows

You and I quantify the moon
With our laborious breathing
We are calm
But so is death with all its valleities
People try to hold clusters of foaming crests
That’s why what’s dense desires description
For without our fists mists draw down

Holy night and her ministers various days
Bold as thunder all heart a presence
Mind’s worlds twist what’s plain as hands
That doing well lack nothing in plain purpose
How will we be when earth’s melted and done?

Snow has fallen on mountain paths
We walk as fast as we talk they swirl
Above the moon regrets us, creates day
We go out to collect it but rain
Amends our situation gives us a blurred moon
To laugh at pulling up our socks in mimicry
Of this moaning, running away, getting lost, raining

Abalone hang onto rocks
Unable to speak drink
The air they breathe seek
Solace throw away a world
Know just rock’s edge
Mold their bodies tight with love
Pulse slowly there
They are human
Awaiting master divers
Swimming down to pry them loose

I dream my mother’s face
As face of someone else, picture
In a foreign language newspaper...
Unhidden I have given up the world it’s cheap
But have not known it, wear worldly clothes
A fool pretending to transcend time which pierces me

I push through snow my face is snow
Entire snow white surf on Kiso’s
Hanging bridge not a thing moves which is moving
A tool to open the danger
So deep I cannot see the bottom

    A man whose mind
Can’t see a thing in front or behind
    Walks straight on into fog
As if leaping off the end of the world
    In fact the next moment of fog
    Also is a case of mistaken identity
In which neither front nor rear applies

So bleak and lost shut up
    By thick encapsulating mountains
    No one around with echoing words
As noise to play against wind’s barks
That companionship that I crave word of
    And here have...
    Turns out to be monkeys shrieking
    Distant and closely, cousins likely

You are like the moon in distance
    A great sphere of it from me like water
    Sucked to the center of a funnel and down
If where you are in a place which is not there
You also see its serene light
Then you’ll also be here as me

When I run away from pleasure as crime
I wonder what terrifies me to blend in
A little bit with warmth, to hold onto time’s
    Not my lot so I’d you as winter
    Any longer to leave, so worse

Why when anyone who pledges grief to longing
    Is anyhow suddenly swept away
    In a wave of wanton lament
I who’d love to leave constantly
    Keep getting time in handsful
    Piling up in leaves between covers

(to a pleasure woman)
In going from a speck to a quartz heart
    I atrophy pleasure or gain...

    Still no use in your stinging querulous
Gesture of keeping from me what you’d intend
    For another by dint of cursory monetary affirmation...

    In fact you’re drawn down in it
                                        As blinds

(pleasure woman’s reply)
I’m saving you because you’ve leased the world
    From troublesome cementing affections
    You’d latch to and close in
This is why what I withhold is like a treasure
    Not gotten greater than had

The last moment of life you’ll be awakened
    By a companion who’ll turn all thought
    And mode of feeling suddenly frozen red
Which I’d gladly welcome in you,
                                                   Sad cricket

(to a deceased relative)
Before now you’d gone here and there
    Up and down in cars
But where you rest in now’s not anywhere like
    A set location, at edge of place
    It whets the arch of distinction
Carrying place away from time and all beyond
    Saying and sense

After years together
    Or far away our same set of eyes
    Looked at moon’s halo all
We knew together simultaneous in care
Now seeing the dense black moon
As totality of mass for an unwise floating...

(advice to a friend)
What you depend on’s lost each one
    Close to you that is image in heart’s eye
    Without which to go on’s not can be do
Black clothes of sorrow dampen in black for tears....

Suggest you plunge on in swampy Dharma joy
    Quiet sitting now day by day

(at a friend’s graveside)
This old field now gone to tangles of soured grass
    In the one old tree snapped and bent
    A dove coos for the gone one mate
Heart all chilled in dense awesome dark

(second poem at friend’s graveside)
All of him’s gone that’s seen and can be
Just a word remains to shape my ear
Which I’d felt already suddenly in the bent bone grass
    Left blowing here in bitter wind...

    What I think about it is poetry

Moon dips down below hill’s slopeline
    Area of contention now vain, without shape
    To distance of deep sky
I also see in this a kind of where to be myself
    Soon and am willing

Stuck on the pivot of my knowing well what’s perfect
    As jewel gleam on crest of wave can’t be grasped
    As mind’s light clear in glancing
Is neither so in me nor not so
    Which I suffer

Mind’s a sky not dark or light
    Which appears within itself as moon
    Gone in a limpid drab of flash
You can see as if slowly crawling to mountains...

People who think Vulture Peak’s moon
    Shakyamuni’s set from before
To be dreamed of now or adhere to rule or letter
Are themselves dim all the way to dark

People who think there’s just one life
    And be quick or worry here as this flesh only
    Looking out for what’s desired according to thought
Are narrower than this tree without branch or twig
Their dimension cramped in on itself
    Without fanning out or diving into time’s endless

Many’s tender tangles words complications
    And flights or rivalries endless repetition
    Of running about shouting tasteless short-term slogans
And despair of future’s ever just conclusions
    Would be practically unbearable
    Were it not for all its flight
To hide out from itself in mountains...

Mind of reality’s like a stream on top
    Shallow over rocks at first then drop
    In icy pools of endless depth
Clearer then though hidden

Longed for guests
Who never arrived in ordinary presence to my mountain hut...

My disappointment equals glee in taste
Of happy lonliness
That brought me this

When what’s expected fails
    Or mind can’t seize on what’s to be
    Expected grief rains down
Disorganized as cherry petals in this wind

Both of us blown and bent getting up and down
    Weakly hard hit by wind and other weather
    Myself sick and young bamboo

Moon passes through deep sky’s night
    Like a robed judge on a bench demands respect
    Points toward fair and deft conclusion I also
Seeing it have passed beyond myself
    With somber like finality