I found this gem, from the 80’s, while dusting a couple of bookshelves, and trying to look busy cleaning my library for my wife. She can no longer help, because all the dust causes her to continually sneeze.
It has been a long time since I read this book, but it is holding up well, even with the accumulated dust and some water damage. Age is causing me to be a bit forgetful, but I believe, during the mid-90’s, ( around 1996) the shack roof had a leak in this shelving area.
Anyways, on with the review!
The Penguin Book Of Zen Poetry is 160 pages and contains Zen poetry from the T’ang dynasty until modern times (1500 years). The book is divided into four parts, a forward, and introduction as well as a few black and white Zen illustrations. I estimate that the book contains around 375+ poems. Part One: Chinese Poems of Enlightenment and Death, Part Two: Poems of the Japanese Zen Masters, Part Three: Japanese Haiku, Part Four: Shinkichi Takahashi, Contemporary Japanese Master.
The introduction is thirty one pages and gives the reader some history and background into the writing of the poetry for each of the four sections. The poems are not fancy dancy pieces of writing, but convey messages that relate to Zen. Poetry was the way to share what was learned in practice. Simple daily life expressed in the least amount of words with full impact. For example, Sung master Tendo-Nyojo (1163-1228) who guided Dogen (1200-1253) to enlightenment wrote this death poem:
I leap into hell-`
Above life and death.
Below are four other example poems from the book:
A blind horse trotting up an icy ledge-
Such is the poet. Once disburdened
Of those frog-in-the-well illusions,
The sutra-store’s a lamp against the sun.
Coming, going, the waterfowl
Leaves not a trace,
Nor does it need a guide.
how cold the lips
of the salted bream.
Borrowing my house
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