The lamp once out

by Natsume Soseki

English version by Soiku Shigematsu
Original Language Japanese

The lamp once out
Cool stars enter
The window frame.

-- from Zen Haiku: Poems and Letters of Natsume Soseki, by Natsume Soseki / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu

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/ Photo by fotojenny /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This haiku is one that leaves me in silence.

On the most literal level, Natsume Soseki is giving us the image of a lamp going out. When that strong, close light is no longer there, our eyes can then see the stars in the night sky through the window. Just three lines are enough to give us that beautiful moment.

But, of course, the meaning expands, with several possible interpretations. One way to read it is that the lamp light could suggest the ego. That is the familiar light we normally live by. It is useful in that it allows us to interact effectively with the immediate environment. But we forget that it also affects our focus and limits our full vision. It is only when it finally goes out, that we can see vastness of the night sky and its glistening, heavenly stars...


Have a beautiful day... and a clear night!



Recommended Books: Natsume Soseki

A Box of Zen: Haiku the Poetry of Zen, Koans the Lessons of Zen, Sayings the Wisdom of Zen Zen Haiku: Poems and Letters of Natsume Soseki Kokoro





The lamp once out