Jan 10 2014

Natsume Soseki – The lamp once out

Published by at 8:51 am under Poetry

The lamp once out
by Natsume Soseki

English version by Soiku Shigematsu

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

/ Photo by fotojenny /

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!

Natsume Soseki, Natsume Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Natsume Soseki

Japan (1867 – 1916) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Natsume Soseki is probably best known as a novelist, sometimes referred to as the Charles Dickens of Japan. He wrote stories with both humanity and an unflinching eye. But he was also a teacher, a cultural critic, a Zen practitioner, and an author of haiku.

Soseki was born in Tokyo and graduated from Tokyo University. He then became a middle school and high school teacher of English language and literature.

In the early 1900’s several of his stories were published in serialized form in magazines, establishing his career as a writer.

Around this time, Soseki also started showing signs of tuberculosis, an illness he never fully shook off. To cope with his illness, Soseki began to practice Zen meditation.

Natsume Soseki died at the age of 49.

More poetry by Natsume Soseki

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Natsume Soseki – The lamp once out”

  1. ShaBazon 10 Jan 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    How beautiful Natsume Soseki haiku is,
    and his life but your comments on it as Well.
    Thank you for your Poetry Chaikhana blog and
    for bringing sacred poetry to me from around the world!

    Love, Gratitude and Peace

  2. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 11 Jan 2014 at 8:11 am

    So few words conveying so much from Natsume Soseki. I am drawn to look up his writing and read more. I like your interpretations, too, Ivan. Yes, when the light of our ego diminishes we see more.
    I experienced that this past week on a retreat in a
    hermitage out here on Long Island. Literally looking out into the dark at the moon and the stars slowly emerging– and on an inner level when I let go of my push to “find answers” — being opened to the Presence of God already there– lightening me up.

  3. Patricia Firthon 12 Jan 2014 at 1:53 am

    Dear Ivan

    It is incredible how something as simple as the Natsume Soseki haiku can describe life on different levels. Your interpretation is deep and true.

    I have just published my first book on Amazon Kindle – written in the form of a fable, in which the same emotion and message I tried to get across. A lot more words.
    It’s called The Hibiscus solution.

    Thank you always Ivan for your work – it’s very much appreciated.

    love and peace

  4. Joshuaon 18 Nov 2015 at 5:54 pm

    What is this poem in its original Japanese, if you don’t mind me asking?

  5. Ivan M. Grangeron 19 Nov 2015 at 11:07 am

    The source I found this poem in did not include the Japanese original — sorry. Try searching elsewhere online. I would love to see it if you track it down.

  6. jeff ircinkon 22 Mar 2019 at 8:08 am

    this isn’t a haiku that follows the 5-7-5 rule.
    are there others?

  7. Ivan M. Grangeron 22 Mar 2019 at 8:18 am

    Many haiku don’t follow the 5-7-5 format. Translating traditional haiku while maintaining the syllable count often leads to poetically awkward or unintelligible results. And contemporary poets regularly do not restrict themselves to the 5-7-5 count. There are plenty of good free form haiku to explore out there…

  8. Elaon 30 Mar 2019 at 4:58 am

    soul consciousness
    is being respectful to the
    self and all others

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