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Basho's Zen Poem

Translated by John Stevens


Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

Eaten alive by
lice and fleas -- now the horse
beside my pillow pees

Along the roadside,
blossoming wild roses
in my horse’s mouth

Even that old horse
is something to see this
snow-covered morning

On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake

The bee emerging
from deep within the peony
departs reluctantly

Crossing long fields,
frozen in its saddle,
my shadow creeps by

A mountain pheasant cry
fills me with fond longing for
father and mother

Slender, so slender
its stalk bends under dew --
little yellow flower

New Year’s first snow -- ah --
just barely enough to tilt
the daffodil

In this warm spring rain,
tiny leaves are sprouting
from the eggplant seed

O bush warblers!
Now you’ve shit all over
my rice cake on the porch

For those who proclaim
they’ve grown weary of children,
there are no flowers

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die

Updated: 1-12-2000

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