Friday, April 15, 2016

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Playing with the Children
By Ryokan (1758?-1831)

Early spring
The landscape is tinged with the first
fresh hints of green
Now I take my wooden begging bowl
And wander carefree through town
The moment the children see me
They scamper off gleefully to bring their friends
They’re waiting for me at the temple gate
Tugging from all sides so I can barely walk
I leave my bowl on a white rock
Hang my pilgrim’s bag on a pine tree branch
First we duel with blades of grass
Then we play ball
While I bounce the ball, they sing the song
Then I sing the song and they bounce the ball
Caught up in the excitement of the game
We forget completely about the time
Passersby turn and question me:
"Why are you carrying on like this?"
I just shake my head without answering
Even if I were able to say something
how could I explain?
Do you really want to know the meaning of it all?
This is it! This is it!

Translated by Abé and Haskel

He was and is known as Ryokan, but his full name, Wikipedia tells us, was Ryokan Taigu, and all sources agree he was an eccentric monk. In what did this eccentricity lie? His nickname, self-imposed, was The Great Fool, and he was known in his maturity and old age for behaving with childlike fun (exemplified in the poem I've chosen for you). 

Also a respected poet and calligrapher, he loved his life as a Zen hermit and beggar.

I found this poem, and several others, included in a talk by Rev. Nonin Chowaney, Abbot of the Nebraska Zen Center. He obviously has a great love and understanding of Ryokan and his poetry.

There are so many places to find his poetry online that I think it's easiest if I just give you the Google page. Also don't overlook a number of free PDFs.

And then there's his Amazon page.

Although I'd heard his name a lot, I knew little of Ryokan's poetry before I got the idea to feature him here. Now, I'm in love with it!

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)


  1. I love the poem, the monk and his childlike playfulness. I have known one like him, now my age, who has spent his life equally carefree, now spreading his joy through the Kindness movement in Vancouver. I love the ending of his poem about the meaning of it all being "This is it! This is it!" though I'm sure many would not understand the truth of it. Thank you, Rosemary, for finding such delightful poets for us every Friday.

  2. I think I'm in love with him too, just based on this delightful poem. I will definitely read more of his poetry. Thank you Rosemary for bringing him to light.

  3. No, I think they really do not...if I knew I might have to do otherwise...and I am happy doing as I am......

  4. The poem took me to the lines, "And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." ...Thanks for the share Rosemary....

  5. The poem turned out to be something quite different from what I had expected. I read the poet's profile first and then went back up to read the poem. Now I think I will go and read more of his poetry. :)

  6. A beautiful poem. Loved the innocence and playfulness in it.
    Thanks for sharing :)

  7. What a truly delightful poem this is, Rosemary. A smile for an early Saturday morning here.


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