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Tinker

Death Poem or Jisei

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Tinker

Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Japanese Verse

Jisei 辞世 or Death Poem is a custom of the ancient literate Chinese and Japanese to write a poem when death was imminent. Zen monks often wrote poems for those who could not write their own. The poems were written in either Classic Chinese, 4 line, 5-7-5-7 characters, waka or haiku. Most often the waka was the verse form used. Writing such a poem is sometimes associated with sepaku (ritual suicide) because it was part of the sepaku ritual, though these poems only make up a small percentage of poems of this genre. One of earliest records of jisei was in 686 by Prince Otsu as he approached his death. The practice was all but abandoned by the 20th century.

The jisei were written in "a graceful, natural manner, and never mention death explicitly". Symbols such as sunsets and falling cherry blossoms are common.

Poems were not always written right before death; respected poets were sometimes contacted well in advance of the event to write a jinsei for one nearing the end of life, poems could also be rewritten by others after death, although the rewrite would never be referred to so as not to tarnish the legacy.

a small night storm blows
saying 'falling is the essence of a flower'
preceding those who hesitate
                       ~~Yukio Mishima

An example of what can be done with this genre in English and Irish....
The Death Poem of Conor MacArt
An Dán Bás Conchubhair Mac Airt by Brendan Lyons

Tá mo chroí bánú.
I bhfuil cónaí lá fada agus leisciúil.
I mo óige a bhí mé ghaiscíoch,
I meán-aois a bhí mé comhairleoir,
I seanaoise mé díomá.

My heart is fading.
My days were long and lazy.
In my youth I was a warrior,
in middle age a counsellor,
in old age a disgrace.

"The Japanese warrior class (侍: samurai) had a tradition of writing death poems known as Jisei no ku: 辞世の句, often before committing ritual suicide to expiate some breach of honour. In Ireland, as usual, we do things differently. This is not a translation (well, obviously it has been translated) but a first attempt to write an original poem in Irish."  ~~Brendan

             I'm waving at you,
             somewhat forlornly,
             before a mountain of outraged
             pedantry falls down on me ....
             but not here, I hope.
                                       
Jisei no ku ~~Brendan Lyons


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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