One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan

by Ryōkan,

Paperback, 1977




New York : Weatherhill, 1977.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brianfay
I got the idea to read this from quotations in one of David Budbill's books. There's something special about reading something so ancient. I imagine that this is what people feel holding a museum artifact. It has the weight of time all over it and yet I feel as though at any time the words might all float right away.
LibraryThing member JamesBlake
Selection of poems by the nineteenth-century Zen hermit and poet. Ryokan is deservedly one of the most famous Buddhist poets from any period and any country. Includes a ten-page introduction by translator John Stevens.
LibraryThing member jnwelch
"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!"

Ryokan is a famous Zen poet who lived on the west coast of Japan in the late 1700s and early 1800s. At 18 he was supposed to follow his father as village headman, and instead became a Buddhist monk. His poems, as ably translated by John Stevens in One Robe, One Bowl, are simple and moving.

First days of spring - blue sky, bright sun.
Everything is gradually becoming fresh and green.
Carrying my bowl, I walk slowly to the village.
The children, surprised to see me,
Joyfully crowd about, bringing
My begging trip to an end at the temple gate.
I place my bowl on top of a white rock and
Hang my sack from the branch of a tree.
Here we play with the wild grasses and throw a ball.
For a time, I play catch while the children sing;
Then it is my turn.
Playing like this, here and there, I have forgotten the time.
Passers-by point and laugh at me, asking,
"What is the reason for such foolishness?"
No answer I give, only a deep bow;
Even if I replied, they would not understand.
Look around! There is nothing besides this.


Here's another one:

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 after
so many things.

And a famous haiku:

The thief left it behind
The moon
At the window.


From Stevens' introduction: "While his hermitage was deep in the mountains, he often visited the neighboring villages to play with the children, drink sake with the farmers, or visit his friends. He slept when he wanted to, drank freely, and frequently joined the dancing parties held in summer. He acquired his simple needs by mendicancy, and if he had anything extra he gave it away. He never preached or exhorted, but his life radiated purity and joy; he was a living sermon."

People he visited "felt as if spring had come on a dark winter's day." This book of his poems conveys the same feeling.
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