Jun 082013

Since I speak little Japanese and no variety of Chinese (in which the Zen poems like this were composed), all the Japanese poems on this site are drawn from (Israeli!) scholar Yoel Hoffman’s excellent Japanese Death Poems, and translated into Hebrew from his English prose translations. For legal reasons and because I am lazy, the English translation you’ll find below is actually a re-translation from the Hebrew, rather than Hoffman’s original English. Whether a translation is still valid after all these games of cross-linguistic telephone I don’t know, since I can’t read the originals (which Hoffman doesn’t provide anyway), but they maintain their internal logic, I think, so…s’all good.

דוֹיוּ (המאה השלוש־עשרה)
שיר מוות

בְּכָל חֲמִשִּׁים וְשֵׁשׁ שְׁנוֹת חַיַּי
לֹא הִתְרַחֵשׁ נֵס.
לָבּוּדְהוֹת וּלִגְדוֹלֵי הַדָּת
שְׁאֵלוֹת יֵשׁ לִי בָּלֵב.
וְאִם אֹמַר,
״הַיּוֹם, בְּשָׁעָה זוֹ,
אֶעֱזוֹב אֶת הָעוֹלָם,״
אֵין בּוֹ שׁוּם דָּבָר.
יוֹם אַחַר יוֹם,
הֲלֹא תַּעֲלֶה הַשֶּׁמֶש בַּמִּזְרַח?1
  1. In all the fifty-six years of my life
    no miracle took place.
    For the Buddhas and the great men of faith
    I have questions in my heart.
    And if I should say,
    “Today, at this time,
    I shall leave this world,”
    there’s nothing there.
    Day after day,
    will not the sun rise in the east?

    (Death poem, Doyu, 13th century)

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