Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Monk Sogi: Wise Traveler

Can be found here
For this post I want to talk about probably the most famous renga (linked-verse) poet, Monk Sōgi. He lived from 1421-1502 A.D. He was a Zen priest and a contemporary of Bishop Shinkei, but it does not seem that Sōgi worked directly under any of the poetic giants of his day. He came from a humble background from a village near Kyōto, but took Buddhist vows early on in his life. Similar to Saigyō, he spent a lot of his time travelling from place to place.
Sōgi was an innovator in Japanese poetry and his work set the stage for later haiku poets. His two most famous works are Minase sangin hyakuin and Yuyama sangin hyakuin (“Three Poets at Minase” and “Three Poets at Yuyama”) which are both 100 poem renga sequences in which three poets compose together within fairly strict guidelines. I am going to translate some of Minase sequence later.
He seemed to have learned the art of linking verse from Shinkei and Sōzei, but, like all famous Japanese poets, he is also able to pull allusions from the greats: Kokinshū and Shinkokinshū. I chose a few of his poems to translate, but keep in mind, some of these poems were probably meant to be read as a longer renga sequence so he may not have intended them to stand alone.

Can be found here



Perhaps a realization
That mankind is just a dream.

Forgotten about,
The garden is now a home
For butterflies.


This poem is an allusion to a famous passage written by the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi. The passage goes:
Once I Zhuang Zhou dreamt that I was a butterfly fluttering about happily.
I did not know that I was Zhou. Suddenly, I awoke, and there I was, Zhou again.
I did not know whether I was Zhou dreaming that he was a butterfly or a
butterfly dreaming that it was Zhou. Between Zhou and a butterfly there
must be a distinction. This is called the transformation of things.
(Tran. Hyun Hochsmann and Yang Guorong)

This kind of paradox is common in Zhuangzi’s work. I think he is trying to indicate to us that our individual sense of reality could be arbitrary, and that all things are interconnected in a metaphysical, yet meaningful, way, or some mumbo jumbo like that.

Here is a selection of autumn poems.



A profound coolness,
Makes the ocean seem shallow,
This sky in autumn.


Can be found here


In this lonely night,
Still the cool autumn wind blows.
With no place to sleep
I must make a humble camp
By the seashore at Ise.



Can be found here

I cross autumn fields
In my dew-laden robes
On my return home.
Flowers woefully withered,
Evening has yet to arrive.




Ahh, this loneliness,
I've come to my wit’s end,
In this mountain town,
The icy autumn wind blows

And evening has yet to fall.


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