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Four Japanese ‘Death Poems’

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I have no house no wife no child   A dewdrop came and went

no wooden printing block     Once I governed Osaka

no money yet I wish for no death      that dream of dreams

Shihei Hayashi (1738–1793)    Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536–1598)

I wish my life to end   Wherever has that dog got to?

under cherry blossom   I thought of him again

at the full February moon    tonight as I came to bed

Saigyō Hōshi, (1118–1190)   Shimaki Akahiko (1876–1926)

For a thousand years in Japanese culture, there has been a specific kind of very short poem which one composes either when actually on the verge of death, or else to prepare one's mind for that situation.1 This is known as a jisei, or …

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