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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
buddhadharma| 73 |fall 2007 Daybreak The rolling snow gets bright peach juice poured into it, the moon left unmelted in the blue sky purring gently to heaven drinks once again the diffused light (para-samgate bodhi svaha) Here, as often in these poems, Miyazawa enlists kinetic images and a concentration of verbs to evoke a sense of continous flux. And here, as elsewhere, he inte- grates sensory impressions with Buddhist themes, capping his impression of a sun- rise with the closing, celebratory phrase of the Heart Sutra. If a sense of movement pervades Miyazawa’s work, so does a profound empathy, expressed most often in physi- cal terms. For if the natural world, in Miyazawa’s vision, is a field in constant flux, it is also a single body, inhabited by sentient beings capable of buddhahood and deserving of infinite regard. Grounded in the Lotus Sutra, which Miyazawa read in his youth and fervently embraced, this conviction infuses the poet’s sketches of flora and fauna, giving rise by turns to tenderness and indignation, as when he protests the destruction of a field of irises, to which he has given “all [his] helpless caresses and boundless love.” “I tremble exactly like the leaves of the poplars,” he confesses in “Reservoir Note.” And in “Talking with Your Eyes,” written dur- ing his last illness, his empathy reaches its apex: I sent word to people half as a joke half eager truly thought that the blue mountain and river as they were were my own self I thought Dissolving conventional syntax, these lines also dissolve the duality of self and other. Poet, mountain, and river become one, if only momentarily. Although Miyazawa portrays his love of nature as erotic – in one poem he speaks of marrying the wind – it is also spiritual and maternal. Nature nourishes and reas- sures him. “The only thing you can count on,” he asserts in an early poem, “is the snow on the string of Saddle Mountain peaks.” And in “Commandment on No Greed,” as he contemplates the “coarse grass called Oryza sativa,” whose “salad color ... even Turner1 would covet,” he invokes the eighteenth-century monk Jiun Sonja, who believed that for those who live without greed, nature’s manifold colors provide sufficient nourishment. To be sure, the natural world can be as changeable as its human counterpart, but in “Past Desire,” Miyazawa views even the mutability of natural phenomena as a font of spiritual sustenance: In the world of these phenomena where everything is unreliable, where you cannot count on anything, the unreliable attributes help form such a beautiful raindrop and dye a warped spindle tree like a gorgeous fabric from rouge to the color of moonlight. Without preaching Buddhist doctrine, these arresting lines illustrate the principle of dependent origination. This is because that is: the spindle tree’s beauty derives from the convergence of ever-changing forces. Such moments are frequent in this col- lection, which contains about one-seventh of the poems Miyazawa wrote in his short lifetime. It would have been helpful to have had roma-ji (romanized Japanese) versions of the poems next to Hiroaki Sato’s lucid translations, if only to afford the Western reader a taste of the originals. But Sato has incorporated Gary Snyder’s versions of some of the poems along with his own, providing a basis for instructive compari- son, and he has also included a bibliogra- phy, extensive notes, a selection of critical essays, and an illuminating introduction. At once scholarly and accessible, his book should do much to advance Miyazawa’s reputation in the West and make his work available to the general reader. And like the statue in Morioka, it honors a devoted Buddhist poet, whose last poem, com- posed on the day of his death, expresses his deepest wish: Because of an illness, crumbling, this life— if I could give it for the dharma how glad I would be 1 Hiroaki Sato provides no note, but almost certainly Miyazawa is referring to the English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), who was known as the “painter of light.”