Clinging to the bell

by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill
Original Language Japanese

Clinging to the bell,
he dozes so peacefully,
this new butterfly

-- from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton

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/ Image by Rafaelfo /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This haiku is so precise and specific that you can't help but step into the scene sketched for us: A butterfly dozing, at peace on an unstruck bell.

The moment suggests such stillness, yet there is that underlying tension and anticipation. That bell can be rung at any moment, startling the butterfly.

The bell might suggest a temple or monastery. It signals a change in awareness, the call to prayer or to duty.

Should we think of the butterfly as a butterfly? Or a monk, perhaps? Or ourselves? It is "new," young, inexperienced. Is its peaceful rest naive? Or is it the natural result of its simplicity?

When the bell is struck, will the butterfly attain wakefulness, or lose its peace?

I really like the way this haiku can be turned around and around, yet we keep returning to that perfect still point, dozing on the unstruck bell.

Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy

Clinging to the bell