Jun 26 2013

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – loneliness

Published by at 8:55 am under Poetry

by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Ishibashi

lies within the listener–
a cuckoo’s call

— from Chiyo-ni: Woman Hiaku Master, Translated by Patricia Donegan / Translated by Yoshie Ishibashi

/ Photo by nine9nine9 /

This haiku expresses beautifully what I love about the form. it is not overtly “spiritual” or “sacred,” yet it manages to suggest so much to us about awareness, emotion, the relationship of self and other, all through the evocation of just a single sound in nature — the cuckoo’s call.

(Here is an audio recording of the cuckoo’s song.)

The cuckoo’s song, when heard alone, is mournful. It seems to fill the empty forest spaces with an awareness of that emptiness. It is a calling out for connection, but it is only answered by its own echo. Listening, we feel lonely.

But that feeling of loneliness, alternately delicious and heartbreaking, what is it? Is it ‘out there’ somewhere? Is it a vacuum in the world around us? Is it something in the song itself? Were we lonely before we heard the song? Did the song make us lonely, or did it reveal something about ourselves? Is it natural, as the cuckoo’s call is natural? Is it the result of circumstance or a choice? Who or what are we lonely for? A special someone not yet met or long lost? Days gone by? A place in the world? Some part of ourself yet unknown? God? Is loneliness the existential state of existence or is it a passing mood? Is what we call loneliness an aspect of our being that we have yet to accept? Is loneliness truly lonely, or is it filled with life and connection? Is loneliness even a real thing?

With just a few words, this haiku invites us to contemplate all of these questions.

But it is not just Chiyo-ni’s haiku that inspires these questions, it was first the cuckoo’s call. These are questions that come to us from nature’s wild places. Like the poet, we must remember to step out into the fields and listen. In this way, perhaps we will come to know our own nature better.

Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Fukuda Chiyo-ni poetry, Buddhist poetry Fukuda Chiyo-ni

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline

Fukuda Chiyo-ni is considered one of the greatest haiku poets.

The daughter of a picture framer, she showed a childhood gift for poetry and had already gained fame for her haiku while she was still a teenager.

Her early haiku were influenced by Basho and his students, though she developed her own unique shofu (style) over her career as a haikuist.

She was a nun of the Pure Land Buddhist sect.

More poetry by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Fukuda Chiyo-ni – loneliness”

  1. Shantion 26 Jun 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Yes the cuckoo’s call pierces the layers of our quotidian existence.It strikes at the coiled memories as this is a call which surprises us in summer year after year.It is that time of the year again!Mostly it has te deep nostalgia of garden of our childhood but it also asks us to back to a call of our deepest self as both memories are connected.”Please come back to child you left behind ,the cuckoo says “,and also listen to the one ,who you really are.Ofcourse the loneliness is inevitable as it seeks to pull us into our hearts ,away from the world that is familiar.And even as we forget the song,it will call us again when our season comes,until pay heed.In India ,the flowering of mango tree is associated with the return of the cuckoo and promise of the fruit loved by children and also symbolizes another ripening for us.

  2. Francine McGovernon 26 Jun 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you for that beautiful commentary Ivan and the cuckoo call. It is the 1st time I’ve herd a real one!

    I think loneliness is part of the human condition and people cover it up with a lot of noise and activity. Silence can be very hard to come by unless one goes away to a ‘lonely place’. For me loneliness is a + because it reminds me what my heart truly longs for

    As St Augustine said “Our hearts are restless ’til they rest in Thee.

  3. Michael Skeldingon 26 Jun 2013 at 1:39 pm

    We look,
    beyond the obvious
    when the cuckoo calls.

  4. ebrahimon 26 Jun 2013 at 2:50 pm

    It is said that god lies in a state of bliss. Yet his aloneness within that state is among the prime reasons for creating the creation. Said he, ‘ I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known so I created the creation.’ Here bliss is the state of being and loneliness the state of not being. That is in essence solitude while in state loneliness. It is because of this very loneliness that Adam sought a companion as so we alll do.

    Within this loneliness is a deep well of sorrow and sadness. Of being lost and alone. Of not having anyone or anything, to turn to. The call from such a heart is the cuckoos call. The most piercing call of all. There is no call that reaches god swifter than the true call of a real lonely heart. A heart that is an ocean of tears. This is so because there is nothing really that god can share with his creatures but this very state of loneliness. And the more abject it is all the more beloved it is.

    I grew up lonely but now am full. Like every lonely person from loneliness I sought to flee from. But the call from that loneliness is what God sought for and answered in an incredible way. Alas if I knew now what I knew than, I would profit with God so much more from being lonely than being full, for I would be neare than near and closer than close. I would be touching his heart and not just looking at his face.

  5. Elizabethon 26 Jun 2013 at 3:18 pm

    lovely questions to ponder, Ivan

    in relation to — “Is loneliness the existential state of existence or is it a passing mood?” — I tend to make a distinction between alone-ness and loneliness.

    alone-ness = all-one-ness ….. the felt sense of knowing, directly, that “all is one” …. that a single fabric of Pure Awareness is the “stuff” out of which all apparent things are made, including the “Elizabeth” character — and that only THIS truly exists

    in seeing this, and in seeing that so many humans seem not to be seeing it — there can arise — as a passing mood, within Elizabeth’s bodymind — a feeling of loneliness ….. a wish for a few more playmates, as it were …. to share the “space” of that sweet surrender, knowingly

  6. sobhanaon 26 Jun 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Full of philosophy … & ?s
    We may never get our justifiable answers
    Thank you very much for heart touching commentary, Ivan

    It’s been long I heard a cuckoo’s call Oh so haunting
    So precious is our childhood memory We must make it sweet to remember, not sorrowful to live in it

    Thank you

  7. ebrahimon 27 Jun 2013 at 12:04 am

    In retrospect, it may be that loneliness is the emptiness of self.

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