Thinking

by Ryokan

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock
Original Language Japanese

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd's purse.
Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

-- from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I really like the way this poem opens...

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd's purse.


Ryokan recognizes how thoughts grow tired of themselves and can finally fall silent. In silence, he enters the woods—a recluse, wrapped in quiet, moving slowly among the trees in search of his simple meal of wild herbs.

This is the part that really awakens:

Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.


He has movement, yes, but it is effortless flow. His entire life at that moment is transparent, completely clear, free from self and the silting of mind.

The poet's entrance into the poem and disappearance into the woods creates a vacuum that draws us in after him. The whole poem is an invitation, leaving us with the question… Shall we, too, slip into the woods?



Recommended Books: Ryokan

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing
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Thinking