Saigyo, poet and monk

Saigyo (1118-1190) was an important poet from the latter half of the Heian era.

He was raised in a military family, a lesser branch of the great Fujiwara clan, whose male members traditionally served in the Imperial Guard. Saigyo studied with the most renowned poets of his day. However he produced only conventional poetry until he suddenly received ordination as a Shingon Buddhist monk at the age of 23 in 1140.

Living as a wandering monk seems to have afforded him the physical and mental freedom reflected in his mature work. Although condemned by an important Shingon abbot for mixing Buddhism with aesthetic activities, he was unfazed by any one's opinion of his life.

He loved the cherry blossoms of Mount Yoshino and composed many poems in honor of them. Saigyoan, a hut where Saigyo reputedly dwelled for over three years still stands in Yoshinoyama. This small hermitage has been a place of pilgrimmage for writers from the poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) to Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943).

The Sankashu ("Mountain Hut Collection"), his major work, contains poems on love, as well as seasonal and miscellaneous topics. Fujiwara no Teika included a poem of Saigyo's in his Hyakunin Isshu.

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