Jan 15 2014

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – whatever I pick up

Published by at 9:51 am under Poetry

whatever I pick up
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

whatever I pick up
is alive —
ebbing tide

— from Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock

/ Photo by JanieGirl80 /

When I read this haiku, it says a lot to me.

whatever I pick up
is alive —

Those first two lines speak of life, discovery, surprise, delight, and the rich variety of the world.

As a young child growing up in Oregon, I loved visits to the coast. Much of the Oregon coast is rocky, cold, moody — perfect for tide pools. I still remember being little more than a toddler and walking among the wet rocks to discover hidden tide pools, little pockets of water filled with the most colorful, strange life forms: anemones, star fish, mussels, tiny fish darting about, and the occasional hermit crab scuttling for cover. Each little tide pool was a wonderland of life!

But the poet’s last line–

ebbing tide

–it hints at death.

She’s right, of course. You have to wait until the ebbing tide to reveal all that magical life. But the ebbing tide itself is a pulling away. It can feel like a personal diminishment or loss, one of nature’s reminders of death.

So perhaps the poem is suggesting to us that it is only when we recognize the reality of death that the richness of life is fully revealed to us. It is a melancholy insight, but death is simply there, to be addressed by each soul. And death is, in some ways, the ultimate teacher that challenges each and every one of us to never take any moment of our lives for granted.

We tend to imagine that death is the loss of awareness and the loss of self, but not so. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, death itself, when we accept its unavoidable presence, actually serves to awaken awareness and fan the fires of life within us. Death reminds us that life is not measured in quantity of years but in the fulness of our moments. The truth of death gives us permission to pause and notice that whatever we pick up is alive.

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

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline

Fukuda Chiyo-ni is one of the most respected of the 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.

Chiyo-ni was a nun of the Pure Land Buddhist sect.

More poetry by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Fukuda Chiyo-ni – whatever I pick up”

  1. rosellen littleon 15 Jan 2014 at 4:15 pm

    thanks for poem
    and your thoughts
    my thoughts
    are a jumbled mess
    unable to appreciate the aliveness
    infront of me
    because of pain and irritation

    but you reminding me of beauty

  2. lynn fuxon 15 Jan 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Very much like from what in Western terms we call THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD which is really more of a book about living well .

  3. Lindsey Nicholason 16 Jan 2014 at 1:38 am

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem, Ivan. This time last year the creativity of the ocean was revealing itself to me on a beach in Costa Riva – but this year I am back in wet old England, grey skies and bare trees. This poem has helped me to think about what is living amidst this apparent death in nature.

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