Japanese Poetry, Poetry

Ryokan – Playing with the Children

“Even if I were able to say something
how could I explain?
Do you really want to know the meaning of it all?
This is it! This is it!”

– Ryokan


Ryokan was a poet and an eccentric Zen monk who lived about two hundred years ago in Japan. He spent most of his life as a hermit (“Like a drifting cloud/Bound by nothing”) living very simply and not conforming to the expectations of spiritual institutions. Ryokan loved children, and played with them so much that other adults began to question his sanity. He says, ‘Even if I were able to say something/how could I explain?’ His wholehearted immersion in playful activity is the essence of his very particular and lovable expression of Zen.


 

Playing with the Children

Early spring
The landscape is tinged with the first
fresh hints of green
Now I take my wooden begging bowl
And wander carefree through town
The moment the children see me
They scamper off gleefully to bring their friends
They’re waiting for me at the temple gate
Tugging from all sides so I can barely walk
I leave my bowl on a white rock
Hang my pilgrim’s bag on a pine tree branch
First we duel with blades of grass
Then we play ball
While I bounce the ball, they sing the song
Then I sing the song and they bounce the ball
Caught up in the excitement of the game
We forget completely about the time
Passersby turn and question me:
“Why are you carrying on like this?”
I just shake my head without answering
Even if I were able to say something
how could I explain?
Do you really want to know the meaning of it all?
This is it! This is it!


 

Ryokan (1758-1831)

 

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