Jisei, or death poetry, is not poetry about death, precisely, but a sort of farewell poem to life. It was somewhat of a tradition in China (right up to the 20th century, see Qiu Jin), but reached its refinement in Japan and Japanese Zen. Most were written in the tanka form, though some were just the length of the opening part of a tanka (haiku). Some were written nearly at the moment of death, though probably far fewer than were later related that way.

Naturally, impermanence is a theme, mono no aware and bittersweetness, but sometimes the poems seem to smile: one I'll paraphrase as "Ah! A beautiful, sunny autumn day. There's a nice time to die!" For these reasons, reading such poetry is often a part of Zen study.

Any good collection of Japanese poetry will include several death poems, and there is also a book devoted to the topic. The range of poems is so wide I'm just going to pick two to include here.

  Plum blossoms falling
   I look up: The sky,
  a crisp, clear moon.
      -- Baiko

  Frost on grass:
    a fleeting form 
   that is/is not.
      -- Zaishiki

for John Locke, who didn't introduce me to jisei, but made me see its sometime smiles

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.