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last words

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

Kozan Ichikyo died on the twelfth day of the second month 1360 at the age of seventy-seven. “A few days before his death he called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. He wrote this poem of the morning of his death, laid down his brush, and died sitting upright.” In: Hoffman, Y. (1986). Japanese death poems written by Zen monks and haiku poets on the verge of death. Boston/Tokyo: Tuttle, p. 108. image: virb.com.

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4 responses »

  1. Peter this is a favourite poem you introduced me to and I have think of it often. I am not sure why it struck such a deep cord in me but it did.

    Reply
  2. I have to agree with the post above, it’s so simple and relaxed, yet it really sticks with me. Thanks!

    Reply
    • so it is for me: every time i look through the 100-plus poems in Hoffman’s collection I stop at this one. it speaks with simple eloquence about impermanence and the unimportance of “me.”

      Reply
  3. ‘Entangled’ is a special word in quantum physics. It refers to the fact that two separate things can be instantly affected by each other regardless of their separation in space and time. What a perfect poem in this regard. Intimations of birth and intimations of death – all around us – right now.

    Reply

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