Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Zen Poetry

by Lucien Stryk
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 176
  • Publication Date January 23, 1995
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3407-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

This superb anthology, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind to appear in English, is the work of an American poet and a Japanese scholar. Their collaboration has rendered translations both precise and sublime, and their selection, which spans 1,500 years, from the early T”ang dynasty to the present day, includes many poems that have never before been translated into English.

Ranging from Chinese poetry of enlightenment and death to the quintessential Zen art of haiku, from the celebrated poems of the Japanese masters to an impressive selection of poems by Shinkichi Takahashi, Japan’s greatest contemporary Zen poet, this collection offers us the profound wealth and scope of Zen poetry in all its beauty and clarity.


Part One
Chinese Poems of Enlightenment and Death
NOTE: Most of the following Chinese masters and laymen, sixty in all, flourished during the Southern Sung dynasty (1127–1279), but their exact dates, with some exceptions, are missing in biographical records of Chinese Zenists. Among those who can be dated, Mumon-Ekai (Rinzai sectarian and author of Mumonkan: The Gateless Barrier, one of the most celebrated collections of disciplinary Zen questions and answers), Tendo-Nyojo (instructor in Soto Zen of Dogen, who, returning home from the Continent, founded the Japanese Soto sect) and Daie-Soko (Rinzai Zen leader with a large following) stand out as brilliant figures in Chinese Zen history.


Ox bridle tossed, vows taken,
I’m robed and shaven clean.
You ask why Bodhidharma came east–
Staff thrust out, I hum like mad.
Twenty years a pilgrim,
Footing east, west.
Back in Seiken,
I’ve not moved an inch.
Once the goal’s reached,
Have a good laugh.

Shaven, you’re handsomer–
Those useless eyebrows!
The old master held up fluff
And blew from his palm,
Revealing the Source itself.
Look where clouds hide the peak.
The mountain–Buddha’s body.
The torrent–his preaching.
Last night, eighty-four thousand poems.
How, how make them understand?
LAYMAN SOTOBA (1036–1101)
How long the tree’s been barren.
At its tip long ropes of cloud.
Since I smashed the mud-bull’s horns,
The stream’s flowed backwards.
Joshu’s “Oak in the courtyard” –
Nobody’s grasped its roots.
Turned from sweet plum trees,
They pick sour pears on the hill.
On the rocky slope, blossoming
Plums–from where?
Once he saw them, Reiun
Danced all the way to Sandai.
Joshu’s “Oak in the courtyard”
Handed down, yet lost in leafy branch
They miss the root.
Disciple Kaku shouts–
“Joshu never said a thing!”
No dust speck anywhere.
What’s old? new?
At home on my blue mountain,
I want for nothing.
Over the peak spreading clouds,
At its source the river’s cold.
If you would see,
Climb the mountain top.
Loving old priceless things,
I’ve scorned those seeking
Truth outside themselves:
Here, on the tip of the nose.
Traceless, no more need to hide.
Now the old mirror
Reflects everything–autumn light
Moistened by faint mist.
No mind, no Buddhas, no live beings,
Blue peaks ring Five Phoenix Tower.
In late spring light I throw this body
Off–fox leaps into the lion’s den.
Sailing on Men River, I heard
A call: how deep, how ordinary.
Seeking what I’d lost,
I found a host of saints.
In serving, serve,
In fighting, kill.
Tokusan, Ganto–
A million-mile bar!
Years keeping that in mind,
Vainly questioning masters.
A herald cries, “He’s coming!”
Liver, gall burst wide.
Seamless–Touched, it glitters.
Why spread such nets
For sparrows?
Clear, clear–clearest!
I ran barefoot east and west.
Now more lucid than the moon,
The eighty-four thousand
Dharma gates!
I set down the emerald lamp,
Take it up–exhaustless.
Once lit,
A sister is a sister.
Not falling, not ignoring–
A pair of mandarin ducks
Alighting, bobbing, anywhere.
How vast karma,
Yet what’s there
To cling to? Last night,
Turning, I was blinded
By a ray of light.
A deafening peal,
A thief escaped
My body. What
Have I learnt?
The Lord of Nothingness
Has a dark face.
A thunderbolt–eyes wide,
All living things bend low.
Mount Sumeru dances
All the way to Sandai.
MUMON-EKAI (1183–1260)
Where is the dragon’s cave?
Dozing this morn in Lord Sunyata’s
Palace, I heard the warbler.
Spring breeze shakes loose
The blossoms of the peach.
No mind, no Buddha, no being.
Bones of the Void are scattered.
Why should the golden lion
Seek out the fox’s lair?
Earth, river, mountain:
Snowflakes melt in air.
How could I have doubted?
Where’s north? south? east? west?
Joshu’s word–Nothingness.
In spring blossom everywhere.
Now insight’s mine,
Another dust-speck in the eye!
Joshu exclaimed, ‘dog’s no Buddha,”
All things beg for life.
Even the half-dead snake
Stuffed in the basket.
Giving to haves, taking from
Have-nots–never enough.
Searching Him took
My strength.
One night I bent
My pointing finger–
Never such a moon!