2013 Poetry Month #9 – One Robe, One Bowl

Today’s poems are from the collection “One Robe, One Bowl – The Zen Poetry of Ryokan”, published in 1997 by Weatherhill. I have posted and written about Zen Master Ryokan, born around 1758 in Japan, a few times on this blog, and want to continue sharing his writing and wisdom. His work cuts through any fog or fuzziness and gets right to the point, bringing us quickly into his world, with a healthy look into his mind and thinking. Sometimes a poem really has no meaning, but the journey is enjoyable and the images lush.


Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
After you know my poems are not poems,
Then we can begin to discuss poetry!

#2 The Long Winter Night

The long winter night! The long winter night seems endless;
When will it be day?
No flame in the lamp nor charcoal in the fireplace;
Lying in bed, listening to the sound of freezing rain.

To an old man, dreams come easy;
I let my thoughts drift.
The room is empty and both the sake and the oil are used up-
The long winter night.

When I was a boy studying in an empty hall,
Over and over I had to fill the lamp with oil.
Even now, that task is disagreeable-
The long winter night.

#3 Grass War

Once again the children and I are fighting a battle using spring grasses.
Now advancing, now retreating, each time with more refinement.
Twilight – everyone has returned home;
The bright, round moon helps me endure the loneliness.


My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing so many things.

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