Kisagari

My wish, to disappear
Under the flowers.
Let it be a Spring death,
In Kisagari (that changing month),
That Bright Moon time of year
.

bright moon, man walking on beach, ukiyo-e 浮世絵, floating world

Farewell to February, 2021

Before the month of February has passed, I thought it fitting to add one more poem on the subject of Kisigari.

This poem is written not by Basho, but by Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師, 1118 -1190) a poet of the Heian period who lived to the age of 72. His life as a monk and his frequent journeys inspired Basho’s many journeys.

February is a month often overlooked because of its shortness, but also its in-betweenness, caught as it is between winter and spring. Nineteenth century American poet Henry David Longfellow gave us his thoughts on a February Afternoon, which begin like this: The day is ending, The night is descending; The marsh is frozen, The river dead. Matsuo Basho also gave us some thoughts on February (Kisagari). Both are a bit depressing.

Saigyō’s poem, on the contrary, is more uplifting, at least in the Buddhist sense of regeneration with Saigyō imagining that he is reborn as an early spring flower , Hana. The third line is particularly poignant. 春死なむ, Haru shinan conbines the idea of a death in spring and なむ which I understand to be “let it be,” and a reference to the Buddhist concept of Namu 南無.

Kisigari, 如月 is the Japanese lunar name for the month of February. It suggests the changing of the seasons, Spring approaching, a month with spring-like days. Sometimes written as Kinusaragi (衣更着, “Changing Clothes”) .

Yesterday, February the 24th, in Kansas it was 70 degrees, two days before that it was 0. What a difference a day or two makes.

I have one final comment to make on Saigyō’s use of , no through out the poem. This personalizes, for me, the thought. Not being a native Japanese speaker it is just my personal thought.

My wish, to disappear
Under my flowers.
Let my death be in Spring,
In Kisagari (that changing month),
My Bright Moon time of year
.

Original Japanese

願はくは
花の下にて
春死なむ
その如月の
望月のころ

Negawaku wa
Hana no moto nite
Haru shinan
Sono kisaragi no
Mochizuki no koro

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