Apr 06 2018

Buson – Clinging to the bell

Published by at 7:49 am under Poetry

Clinging to the bell
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

Clinging to the bell,
he dozes so peacefully,
this new butterfly

— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton

/ Image by Rafaelfo /

This haiku is so precise and specific that you can’t help but step into the scene sketched for us: A butterfly dozing, at peace on an unstruck bell.

The moment suggests such stillness, yet there is that underlying tension and anticipation. That bell can be rung at any moment, startling the butterfly.

The bell might suggest a temple or monastery. It signals a change in awareness, the call to prayer or to duty.

Should we think of the butterfly as a butterfly? Or a monk, perhaps? Or ourselves? It is “new,” young, inexperienced. Is its peaceful rest naive? Or is it the natural result of its simplicity?

When the bell is struck, will the butterfly attain wakefulness, or lose its peace?

I really like the way this haiku can be turned around and around, yet we keep returning to that perfect still point, dozing on the unstruck bell.

Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson

Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Taniguchi Buson (or Yosa Buson) was known in his day primarily as an excellent painter, but today he is often grouped with Basho and Issa as among the finest writers of haiku poetry.

He was born outside of Osaka, Japan, but lost both parents while still young. He moved to Edo (Tokyo) to study painting and haiku. He later settled in Kyoto, making a name for himself as a painter.

When we compare Buson with Basho, Buson’s haiku are more crafted than Basho’s, showing the precision of a painter’s eye.

More poetry by Buson

One response so far

One Response to “Buson – Clinging to the bell”

  1. Annaon 06 Apr 2018 at 8:58 am

    I interpret this haiku as a metaphor of US,
    from contemporary view and experiences.

    “Clinging to the bell”

    means to me as us,
    clinging to the old,
    known reality, comfort zone…

    “he dozes so peacefully”

    we doze unaware, unawakening,

    Yes, very probably,
    when the bell is struck,
    the butterfly will attain wakefulness,
    and he will lose its peace…
    for a while,
    while attune
    with the new resonance
    of the bell…

    The bell strike-boom!
    Butterfly awaken
    In new landscape


    Thank you, Ivan!

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