Friday, June 20, 2014

I Wish I'd Written This

Hokusai says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

— Roger S. Keyes

Though this poem has been widely circulated online, and you may well know it already, I can't find out much about its author, although he is described as "a renowned scholar". All I can ascertain is that he was recently based (and perhaps still is) at Brown University as a visiting scholar, his field is Japanese art and he has written some beautifully illustrated books on the subject. The latest, Ebon: The Artist and the Book in Japan, was published in 2006 by Washington University Press and is already a collector's item on Amazon.

It appears that Keyes has a particular interest in Hokusai (1760-1849) an ukiyo-e painter and woodblock printmaker of the Edo period in Japanese art. Hokusai is stil known for his "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji", particularly The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, which of course you will recognise:

There are more examples of his work in the Wikipedia article.

Keyes's poem telling us what Hokusai says must, I think, refer to the messages he perceives in the paintings. But also the poem is often accompanied by the story that Hokusai, on his death bed at 89, said that if he had lived another five years, he would have been "a real painter". Perhaps Keyes had access to more of his words and was quoting or paraphrasing.

Whatever moved Keyes to interpret his favourite subject in verse, he has given us a beautiful philosophical reflection and affirmation of life, as well as a tribute to the artist he so appreciates. I love what the poem says, and the urgent conviction in which it is said, so that by the end it is exemplifying the attitude it describes.

Here is Hokusai's lovely Self-Portrait at the Age of Eighty-Three, which illustrates that joy in life. We can see that Keyes interprets him accurately!

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. Thank you Rosemary! I had read parts of this poem here and there but not as a whole... This was indeed a beautiful portrayal of a man through his beliefs rather than his looks.. The poem in itself is extremely inspirational and motivating... I love the part where he says everything is alive and within us...
    "Everything has its own life.
    Everything lives inside us."

    It does paraphrase the idea of being kind to not just every One but also every Thing. Also how everything in the universe can be found within us! Such a master piece. Thank you for bringing it today!!

  2. This tapped some tears from me today. Clearly I should read it often, in the morning when prepared for awe. Thank you.

  3. it matters what you feel
    it matters what you notice...

    true that...a very cool poem...i feel like i have read some of it before but not the whole much wisdom packed into it...

  4. Oh the poem is spectacular, and howwonderful both men are, the poet and the painter. I LOVE the self-portrait of himself at 83. Wow. Thanks, Rosemary. This was a delight!

  5. This piece touched me this morning Rosemary! Thank you!

  6. Positively beautiful. If only everyone looked at life from this perspective, We would certainly appreciate life more.

  7. Rosemary, this is excellent. I agree with everything he says.

  8. 'Don't be afraid' ~ the hardest part for many...~ thanks, Rosemary! xx

  9. Oh I loved this much depth and understanding..wisdom is flowing here..thanks a lot for sharing this Rosemary..smiles..:)

  10. Thank you for sharing another excellent poem. I enjoy learning a bit more about poets and poetry every week.

  11. amazing...has been really sometime that I have read something as powerful as this...thanks for sharing :)

  12. Thank you Rosemary for sharing such an amazing poet and his thought provoking deeply inspiring expressions.


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