Japanese death poetry

Blythe and I went to hear Bill Viola last week, who was speaking as part of the Melbourne Festival. He spent some time talking about the influence that Japanese death poetry has had on his work. There’s a tradition that Zen Masters are handed a pen to write a poem, literally in their last breath. I’ve been reading some this week…

Three favourites:

Till now
I thought that only
others die
that such happiness
should fall to me!

– Ryoto, written on the day he died in 1669, aged 75

Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it. Going, all is clear, without a doubt.
What, then, is all?

– Hosshin, 13th Century

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

– Kozan Ichikyo, who died February 12, 1360, at 77

Bill Viola’s Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension are showing at St Carthage’s in Parkville [123 Royal Parade] until Saturday night. I hope to leave a meeting early and go tonight.