Shinkei, or Bishop Shinkei as he was also known as, lived from 1406 to 1475 A.D. He was a student of Shōtetsu and a fervent believer in the superiority of waka compared to the new trend in poetry at his time, renga. The end of his life was very tumultuous due to the Ōnin War (1467-1477).
That war was completely crazy and destructive. The war began over a dispute over who would be the next shogun after Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The details of the dispute are boring and uninteresting, but the effects of that war on Japan were dramatic. Kyoto was reduced to ashes and Japan remained in a state of civil war for about 100 years following the war. This period is known as the Sengoku Jidai, which translates to the Warring States Period. The war was so was debilitating to both sides that the entire shogunate disintegrated into several smaller states, and it wasn’t until Oda Nobunaga that Japan was again, at least partially, unified.
Shinkei, like his teacher Shōtetsu, was enamored with classical Japanese poetry and culture. He felt that the poets of the Heian period were the best, and the dilettante samurai poets of his day lacked real talent.
His poetry is idiosyncratic and cynical at times. He devoted some poetry to describe the grievances of his time, but most of his poetry followed the tried and true themes set down by his predecessor. He was also high-ranking in the Buddhist clergy, he was a “bishop” after all, so some of his poetry has a Buddhist ring to it.
Some of the poetry I translated is in waka form, but other poems are split as they would be for a renga sequence, meaning that they start with the 7-7 couplet. I did include a couple of his 5-7-5 hokku, which essentially are haiku, but unlike later haiku poetry, these weren’t meant to stand alone and were usually incorporated into a longer renga sequence.
|Red Plum and Moon|
In the depths of night
The sweet aroma of plum
Stirs me from my dreams.
I hadn’t even rolled the screen,
Spring’s powerful breeze through the eaves.
By “rolled the screen” he’s referring to a bamboo screen which would usually be unrolled in front of the window, similar to a curtain.
In the dawn light, I can’t parse
My dreams from reality.
In the moon’s dull glow,
Those scattering blossoms
Don’t belong to this world.
I like this poem because of its dreamy feel.
There’s hardly a trace,
Even if this sky of this spring
Seems to be the same
As those past, I’m just one man,
The moon has become hazy.
I had a hard time with this one and I found it kind of bizarre. I feel like he is lamenting the time passing and the general degradation of the world around him.
|Can be found here|
One can’t see the wind blowing,
Or the mountain’s echo.
For all things that be,
Whether they are or are not,
They look similar.
This is a very Buddhist poem. Basically, he is being pedagogical and saying that although we cannot see the wind or an echo, they still exist but also do not exist.
Dark clouds still above
Our already doomed world,
Will there be showers?
The prelude to this poem is about the Ōnin war.
|Can be found here|
Leaves painted by fall
Rotting at the water’s edge.
Bright white morning frost.
This one has some nice imagery.
When I dwell on things,
Such as flowers and phantoms,
And how they differ,
My heart, all of a sudden,
Shatters into a million pieces.
I like this one a lot because I don’t really understand what it means.