Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kanjincho - Shamisen - and Hoka Priests

So what does Kanjincho, a Kabuki play, have to do with poetry and why am I writing about it today?

Two reasons - Kanjincho is based on a much older Noh play (Ataka) which includes much beautiful poetry (see here and here) and I am learning to play musical excerpts for Kanjincho on my shamisen!

After many hours practicing my shamisen I became curious about the story behind the music, especially since I was already (trying to) learning the music behind the story! Here is the story behind the play's title "Kanjincho" as I understand it in my own words:

The Story of Kanjincho
Set in mid 12th century, a Noble (Togashi) is charged with guarding a barrier gate; he must prevent the great warrior Yoshitune from passing - Yoshitune is rumored to be traveling disguised as a simple porter.

Of course Yoshitune IS disguised as a porter and his traveling companion Benkei pretends to be a Buddhist priest traveling the countryside asking for donations.

When they approach the gate, Togashi is immediately suspicious - he asks for their Kanjincho, a scroll listing the names of those who have donated so far.

Benkei, clever one that he is, produces a blank scroll and pretends to read from it. Of course, Togashi isn't fooled by these antics, but is amused and lets these guys slide.

In the picture, Benkei is in front and Togashi is in back.

There is of course far more to the story, I have really only described why the play was titled "Kanjincho".

There is an Akira Kurosawa film loosely based on this play; it is titled "The Men who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" - very fun movie to see!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dark Passage - Saigyo

Poet-monk Saigyo wrote this mystical, and I feel very moving, thought-provoking poem:

"Passage into dark
mountains over which the moon
presides so brilliantly....

Not seeing it i'd have missed
this passage into my own past."

Autumn Storm

"Autumn, by eyes unseen,
Is heard in the wind's anger;

And the clash of river-reeds, the clamorous descent
Of wild-geese searching
The home-field's face,

Clouds shaped like leaves of rice,—all these
To watchful eyes foretell the evening storm."

From Noh Play "The Hoka Priests" (15th Century)

A River of Tears - TOG

"I was snagged upon a shoal
of a river of tears.
Was that the start of this drift
to deeper waters?"

From: Suma chapter of The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki
Trans: E. G. Seidensticker

Where shall I go - Kokinshu 952

"Where shall I go,
to what cave among the rocks,
to be free of tidings
of this gloomy world?"

Ref: Kokinshu 952
Trans: E. G. Seidensticker???

I envy the waves - by Ariwara Narihira

"Strong my yearning
for what I have left behind.

I envy the waves
that go back
whence they came."

Tales of Ise 7,
attributed to Ariwara Narihira

The sorrow of parting - by Murasaki Shikibu

"The sorrow of parting
brings such floods of tears
that the waters of this river
must surely rise."

Passage from Genji Monogatari
by Murasaki Shikibu, trans Seidensticker

Upon a mountain-side - by Zenchiku Ujinobu

Spoken by Hoka priest to a traveler:

"He who has seen upon a mountain-side,
stock still beneath the moon
the young deer stand in longing for his mate;

That man may read the writing,
and forget the finger on the page."

Written by Zenchiku Ujinobu (1414 - 1499)
trans: Arthur Waley

Imagery of Change

A spring has gone;

summer grown to age;
An autumn closed;
a winter come again,
Marked only by the changing forms
Of flowers and trees.

From “Shunkwan”, by Seami Motokiyo (1363 – 1384 A. D.)
Transl: Arthur Waley

I really enjoy this particular prose. You too? I feel such a powerful rhythm as I read this passage; maybe due to the moving imagery (seasons)?

The Bell of Gion Temple

From the opening lines of a medieval Buddhist story:
"The sound of the bell of the Gion Temple echoes the impermanence of all things.
The pale hue of the flowers of the teak tree show the truth that they who prosper must fall.
The proud do not last long, but vanish like a spring night's dream.
And the mighty too will perish in the end, like dust before the wind.”

Peaceful Retirement

I dream of peaceful retirement such as this;

maybe you also have this dream:

"Living in retirement beyond the World,
Silently enjoying isolation,
...I pull the rope of my door tighter
And stuff my window with roots and ferns.

My spirit is tuned to the Spring-season:
At the fall of the year there is autumn in my heart.
Thus imitating cosmic changes

My cottage becomes a Universe.
By Lu Yiin [fourth century A. D.]

dew of the flowers

"The dew of the flowers

dripping day by day;
In how many thousand years
will it have grown into a pool?

By Kiyowara Motosuke (907 – 990)
Included in "Kantan" Nō Play by Seami
Trans: Arthur Waley

Lost - by Zeami

"Lost on the journey of life,

shall I learn at last
that I trod but a path of dreams?"
...By Zeami (1363 – c. 1443)

Spoken by a traveling young man in search of his purpose in life; looking for answers, advice, wisdom

Teardrops od Dew - Issa

He grieves for his recently deceased father--

"While I remain alive,
On me as on the grass
Fall teardrops of dew."

Ware ni kakaru ya
Kusa no tsuyu

Excerpt from Chichi no Shuen Nikki

Trans: Robert N. Huey


A long line of wild geese - Buson

"A long line of wild geese
Against the lonely peak,
In the moonlight."

transl: Frances Rumsey

While reading this poem, I see myself forlorn and observing the scene; all is quiet.

A pretty unforgettable haiku, don't you agree?

Poem excerpted from "Japanese Impressions: with a note on Confucious"

Mountain Temple - by Yokoi Yayu

A mountain temple
The bell at daybreak
Scatters afar the crows!

by Yokoi Yayu
Japanese Impressions

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Motionless Heron by Sōkan

Save for his thin voice
The motionless heron
Is but a drift of snow.

...Sōkan (1465 - 1554)
Japanese Impressions

A Fallen Petal - by Arakida Moritake

A fallen petal
Rises to the branch:
Ah, a butterfly!

by Arakida Moritake

Passage excerpted from here

Dark Passage

Passage into dark
mountains over which the moon
presides so brilliantly....

Not seeing it i'd have missed
this passage into my own past.

by Poet-monk Saigyō Hōshi

Mt Myojingatake in May - Notes to myself after hike.

Great mountain.
Great hike.
It was warm.
I was drenched in rain showers.
My cell phone battery was dead at the mountain's summit.
I was dry and muddy at end of hike.
Took the 2 plus hour train rides back looking like a vagabond but feeling great.
Somehow managed to get a sunburn (not too bad).
Hiked from Sengoku, over mountain, to Daiyuzan.

Please click on flower to see best picture.
This flower was beside the trail - I took the picture while the rain was still falling.
Trailside Mountain Flower


Through this beautiful prose, Po Chu-i writes of simple villagers living an ideal, uncomplicated life.

Title: CHU CH'EN VILLAGE (A.D. 811)
Poet: Po Chu-i
More Translations From The Chinese

"In Hsii-chou, in the District of Ku-feng

There lies a village whose name is Chu-ch'en ―

A hundred miles away from the county-town,

Amid fields of hemp and green of mulberry-trees.

Click, click goes the sound of the spinning-wheel;

Mules and oxen pack the village-streets.

The girls go drawing the water from the brook;

The men go gathering fire-wood on the hill.

So far from the town Government affairs are few;

So deep in the hills, man's ways are simple.

Though they have wealth, they do not traffic with it;

Though they reach the age, they do not enter the Army.

Each family keeps to its village trade;

Grey-headed, they have never left the gates.

Alive, they are the people of Ch'en Village;

Dead, they become the dust of Ch'en Village.

Out in the fields old men and young

Gaze gladly, each in the other's face.

In the whole village there are only two clans;

Age after age Chus have married Ch'ens.

Near or distant, they have kinsmen in every house;

Young or old, they have friends
wherever they go.

On white wine and roasted fowl they fare

At joyful meetings more than " once a week."

While they are alive, they have no distant partings;

To choose a wife they go to a neighbour's house.

When they are dead,― no distant burial;

Round the village graves lie thick.

They are not troubled either about life or death;

They have no anguish either of body or soul.

And so it happens that they live to a ripe age

And great-great-grandsons are often seen."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

For the New Born

Slowly opening
Reaching for sunshine--
New growth.

©pwilliams 2011

Quiet Despair

In my solitude,
I sadly wonder what to do,
But the only reply
Is the rustling
Of the reeds before me.

Hitori shite
Ika ni semashi to
Soyo tomo mae no
Ogi no kotauru.

Excerpt from: Kon- jaku Monogatari.
It is also the basis for the noh play Ashikari.
Part of Yamato Monogatari.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

THE LETTER by Po Chu-i [A.D. 81 ]

Another gem from Po; he has such a great sense of humor and rhythm. Po wrote THE LETTER soon after becoming separated from his exhiled best friend.

by Po Chu-i [A.D. 81 ]

"A knocking on the door sounded 'Doong, doong!'

They came and told me a messenger from Shang-chou
had brought a letter, a single scroll from you!

Up from my pillow I suddenly sprang out of bed
and threw on my clothes, all topsy-turvy.

I undid the knot and saw the letter within;
a single sheet with thirteen lines of writing.

At the top it told the sorrows of an exile's heart;
at the bottom it described the pains of separation.

The sorrows and pains took up so much space
There was no room left to talk about the weather! "

I excerpted this passage from "The Letter".

Reference: Waley, A. D., & Chu-I, P. (January 01, 1917). Thirty-Eight Poems by Po Chu-I. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, London Institution, 1, 1, 53-78.

Po link: