Tuesday Poem – You do not need many things by Taigu Ryokan

You do not need many things


My house is buried in the deepest recess of the forest
Every year, ivy vines grow longer than the year before.
Undisturbed by the affairs of the world I live at ease,
Woodmen’s singing rarely reaching me through the trees.
While the sun stays in the sky, I mend my torn clothes
And facing the moon, I read holy texts aloud to myself.
Let me drop a word of advice for believers of my faith.
To enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.

Tr. Nobuyuki Yuasa

A statue of Ryōkan.

Taigu Ryōkan (1758-1831) was a Japanese poet in a tradition of radical Zen poets or “great fools”.  He is remembered for poetry and calligraphy that present the essence of Zen life. Ryōkan spent his life as a hermit in the snow country of Mt. Kugami.  He refused to accept any position as a priest or as a poet.  In the tradition of Zen his poems show a good sense of humour as well as insights into the practice of Zen. 

Who says my poems are poems?
These poems are not poems.
When you can understand this,
then we can begin to speak of poetry.

Ryōkan never published a collection of verse while alive. He spent his days in zazen meditation, walking in the woods, playing with children, making his daily begging rounds, reading and writing poetry, doing calligraphy, and occasionally drinking wine with friends.


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