winter moon

by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock
Original Language Japanese

winter moon --
bowing to a monk
on the bridge

-- from The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson, Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock / Translated by John McDonald

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/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I couldn't help but notice the full moon last night hovering in the cool winter sky.

Something about a "winter moon" seems more moon-like, evoking the moon at its brightest, purest, and perhaps most aloof. There is a crystalline clarity to the moon in a winter sky.

This is the moon of awakened awareness, shining sartori.

But with the closing lines, who is bowing to the monk on the bridge? One way to read it is that the moon is bowing to the monk. Perhaps the moon is heavy and low in the sky. So perhaps heavenly enlightenment is quietly acknowledging the noble journey of the monk.

We can also read these lines as we ourselves are bowing to the monk, which seems to transform the monk into the moon itself. So perhaps we are bowing to the embodied enlightenment of the monk.

The bridge itself seems significant. In Asia, we have "moon bridges," highly arched bridges that form a full (moon) circle when seen in reflection upon the water's surface. So, is the bridge the moon? Or is the moon a bridge?

A bridge is an interstitial space, joining two realms separated by flowing water, yet the bridge itself belongs to neither side. It represents a pathway between worlds and states of mind. The bridge is connection, pathway, and transformation.

Let's bow to that winter moon-bridge. Perhaps it will bow back to us.

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

winter moon