Thinking of Sakura

It’s spring now and soon the cherry blossoms will come to Japan. It’s a big deal. The entire nation celebrates with festivals, and viewing parties and picnics, and after dark, the parks always seemed to be filled with strolling couples admiring the trees in the moonlight. The newspapers and the TV news carrying special features each day updating everyone on the “sakura front”, charting the progress of the cherry blossoms as they bloom their way across the country.

To say that the Japanese appreciate the beauty of the sakura is an understatement. I imagine that for many this year they will as excruciatingly poignant as they should be exquisite, for cherry blossoms, which drop from the trees soon after blooming, represent the transient nature of life.

Some Japanese poems on the subject of cherry blossoms . . .

We cannot behold
the beauty of the blossoms
enshrouded by haze –
yet steal us their scent, at least,
spring breezes blowing from the hills.

Yoshimine no Munesada (816-90)

How many times now
have I crossed over hill crests
with the image
of blossoms leading me on –
toward nothing but white clouds?

Fujiwara no Shunzei (1114-1204)

Everyone feels grief
when cherry blossoms scatter.
Might they then be tears –
those drops of moisture falling
in the gentle rains of spring?

Otomo no Juronushi (late 9th century)

The pathway I marked
when last year I made my way
into Yoshino –
I abandon now to visit
blossoms I have not yet seen.

Monk Saigyo (1118-1190)

Thoughts still linger  –
but will those who have parted
return once again?

Evening is deep in the hills
where cherry blossoms fall.

Shinkei (1406-1475)

A fallen blossom
Returning to the bough, I thought –
But no, a butterfly.

Arakida Moritake (1473-1549)

From Traditional Japanese Poetry An Anthology, translated by Steve D. Carter


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