Ryokan, Basho and
Japanese Zen Poetry

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Ryokan: great fool

Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
After you know my poems are not poems,
Then we can begin to discuss poetry!

Although we focus on Ryokan's poetry in this lesson, it is important to know that this 18th cent rut hermit-monk represents for the Japanese something special in the Japanese character. D.T. Suzuki went so far as to say that "When we know one Ryokan, we know hundreds of thousands of Ryokan in Japanese hearts."

Ryokan also exemplifies the Zen Buddhist idea of attaining enlightenment and then returning to the world with "a serene face and gentle words." In his life he was indeed Daigu, the "Great Fool" (the literary name he gave himself), one who had gone beyond the limitations of all artificial, man-made restraints.

What will remain as my legacy?
Flowers in the spring,
The hototogisu in summer,
And the crimson leaves of autumn.