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Walking in Soseki’s Snow Valley

Snow Valley
by MUSŌ SOSEKI, translated by W. S. MERWIN AND SŌIKU SHIGEMATSU
Each drifting snowflake
             falls nowhere
                          but here and now

Under the settling flowers of ice
             the water is flowing
                          bright and clear

The cold stream
             splashes out
                          the Buddha’s words
Startling
             the stone tortoise
                          from its sleep
These poems in Narrative magazine are excerpted from Sun at Midnight: Poems and Letters (Copper Canyon Press), the first translation into English of the work of Muso Soseki.
Soseki was a thirteenth-century Zen roshi and founder of the rock garden. The poems are excellent reading for other poets, gardeners, and students of Zen.  
Musō Soseki (1275–1351), born ten years after Dante, became the most famous Zen monk of his time. He advised and taught several emperors, as well as more than thirteen thousand students. 
All on my own I’m happy
            in the unmapped landscape
                        inside the bottle
my only friend
            is this
                        wisteria cane
Last night
            we stayed up talking
                        so late
that I’m afraid
            I was overheard
                        by the empty sky

In his old age, Musō withdrew from court to devote himself to Buddha and to cultivate the Zen gardens for which he is remembered. At his death, he left behind an enormous body of poetry and prose. In honor of his profound influence on Japanese culture, he was renamed Musō Kokushi, “national Zen teacher,” by Emperor Go-Daigo.

Toki-no-Ge (Satori Poem)
Year after year
I dug in the earth
looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
the pile of dirt
choking me
until once in the dead of night
I tripped on a broken brick
and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
I had smashed the bones
of the empty sky

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