Oct 18 2019

Buson – This cold winter night

Published by at 9:05 am under Poetry

This cold winter night
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head Buddha
would make a nice fire

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

/ Image by thanapat /

Chilly weather this morning. Makes a person cast about for a source of warmth… Hmm…

Every time I come across this haiku it makes me laugh. It works beautifully on several levels and can suggest almost opposite meanings. Superficially, we are contemplating an act of sacrilegious vandalism — hungrily looking at a large wooden Buddha head, perhaps it is neglected or fallen, and fantasizing about setting it on fire for a little comfort. On the other hand, the head engulfed in flames is a common image in Asian iconography to represent enlightenment, a variation on the nimbus or halo — so the haiku can just as easily be saying something about warming oneself through spiritual illumination.

The haiku shocks, it even offends, at the same time that it inspires awakening — a masterful joke!

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

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Buson – This cold winter night”

  1. Annaon 18 Oct 2019 at 11:38 am

    I think in this haiku Buson meant the old Zen saying
    “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”
    as a metaphor of letting go of
    all baggage and entrapment
    of all external teachings and knowledge,
    including spiritual.

  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 18 Oct 2019 at 11:44 am

    Someone else pointed out a similar interpretation in an email to me. Definitely worth contemplating the haiku in that way…

  3. Amitabhon 18 Oct 2019 at 11:47 am

    Lovely Haiku, Ivan
    Weather is chilly here too
    Warm thoughts though I share

    Lolvely Haiku and commentary, Ivan.
    I plan to share your offering of today on my little blog: http://www.willingtraveller.wordpress.com if that’s ok.

    From the also cold UK!


  4. Emily S.on 18 Oct 2019 at 2:34 pm

    What a wonderful haiku.

    Perfectly witty and illuminating, and it made me laugh out loud, which is always nice.

  5. marrobon 19 Oct 2019 at 4:53 am

    Lovely! The other responders said it so well.

    With an election coming up on Monday here in
    Canada, there’s a lot of ‘hot air’ circulating on the media.

    This haiku brings genuine warmth …we need a good laugh!
    Thank you most kindly, Ivan

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