Oct 09 2013

Ryokan – Autumn’s first drizzle

Published by at 8:25 am under Poetry

Autumn’s first drizzle
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

Autumn’s first drizzle:
How delightful,
The nameless mountain.

— from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, Translated by John Stevens

/ Photo by twbuckner /

I can’t say exactly why, but I’ve always felt an especial aliveness in autumn. Perhaps it is the clarity of the light on the coloring leaves. The crisp mornings and the way twilight lingers late over the land. That feeling of transition, change, teetering at the edge of winter’s cold, between activity and inturning — a secret threshold in the seasons when new pathways can be discovered.

It seems with every autumn my body takes on a ritual fever or influenza, and I have to admit that I find the state rather comforting. It feels strangely right when autumn comes, to feel a slight flush, to be slow of movement and thought, to view the new world through glowing eyes, not quite free from the dream state. Autumn is a season that invites visions, that gives us glimpses of the strangeness of the world we think so familiar, and in that strangeness we discover new possibilities, new ways of being, new ways of seeing. Things lose their familiar forms and names in autumn’s half-light, and we ourselves can seem small and wraithlike amidst the shifting unknown. I’ve always seen in this season a window into the great Mystery, frightening and exhilarating, melancholy and delightful. Is anything substantial in this magical season? No, not really. Except, perhaps, for the life and light of awareness that burns so bright within us.

It’s a good season to see a nameless mountain.

Have a beautiful autumn day.

Much love to everyone!

Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

Japan (1758 – 1831) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Like Han-shan in China, Ryokan is loved in Japan as much for his antics as for his profound poetry.

Ryokan became a priest at age 18 and took to a life of wandering. He eventually met his teacher, Kokusen Roshi, and settled down to study Zen practice, ultimately becoming his most esteemed student. When Kokusen Roshi died, Ryokan inherited his temple. But the duties and regularity of being temple master didn’t suit Ryokan, and he resumed his itinerant life.

He next settled in a small hut he called Gogo-an on Mt. Kugami, where he lived by begging.

Ryokan’s love of children and animals is legendary. He often played games with the local children, as reflected in his own poetry.

His reputation for gentleness was sometimes carried to comical extremes. A tale is told that, one day when Ryokan returned to his hut he discovered a robber who had broken in and was in the process of stealing the impoverished monk’s few possessions. In the thief’s haste to leave, he left behind a cushion. Ryokan grabbed the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him. This event prompted Ryokan to compose one of his best known poems:

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

When Ryokan was 70 and nearing the end of his life, he met a young nun and poet named Teishin. Though Teishin was only 28, they fell in love. They exchanged several beautiful love poems.

As Ryokan was dying, Teishin came to him and held him at his moment of death. It was Teishin who collected and published Ryokan’s poetry after his death.

More poetry by Ryokan

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Ryokan – Autumn’s first drizzle”

  1. marrobon 10 Oct 2013 at 5:45 am

    In the middle of a hectic day that risks
    getting ‘crazy’, this simple poem brings me
    back to the centre, lke a cup of herbal tea.
    Of course, Chaikhana – the Teahouse of
    Rest for the Traveller.

    Once again, Ivan, thanks for a much needed ‘pause’.
    You just never know who may be at the Chaikhana door,
    do you?

  2. Pegon 10 Oct 2013 at 7:34 am

    I love autumn, too. I am excited by the anticipation of slowing down from spring and summer hectics. My walks with Cappuccino, my dog, who is nearly bursting with new energies from the crisp mornings, are warmed by the colors created by the fallen light that seems to just rest on the horizon no matter what time of day.

    I don’t want to be preachy Ivan, but be careful of your thoughts on illness. I got to the point of welcoming the flu and fever so I could have an excuse to rest and take care of myself. I realized how awful my thoughts were to want damage to my body because I could not stand up for my needs. I healed that by allowing myself appropriate time to rest my body, time that is specific to my body’s needs. I pushed my body beyond and filled it with caffeine because of all the social and cultural lies then had many years if ill health. I do feel the changing electromagnetic currents in the spring and fall but I no longer experience fevers or flu, just allergies (still working on this spiritual issue).

    Anyway, much love and wishes for enjoying this beautiful time of year.

  3. Ivan M. Grangeron 10 Oct 2013 at 8:17 am

    Of course, you’re right, Peg. I appreciate the reminder.

  4. Bharation 10 Oct 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Changing seasons require the body to adjust. In India nine days twice each year, spring and fall, navratas are observed. people eat light, lots of fruits, and avoid salt. Doing this allows the body to shift gears without fevers and allergies.

    Peg as well as Ivan’s earlier note are both so right,and so delightfully human. Thank you for sharing your truths.

  5. donkey Hoteyon 10 Oct 2013 at 2:09 pm


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