Jan 10 2014
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 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.