A Poem For Saturday


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

I first began reading W.S.Merwin’s poetry in 1970. I remember sitting at a counter at a Zum Zum’s coffee shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts and wildly underlining poems from his book, The Moving Target. Twenty years later, he inscribed my tattered copy in my office at The New Yorker, where he had been publishing poems since 1955 and where, to my delight, I had become the poetry editor. W.S. Merwin has written more than two dozen collections of poems and eight books of prose. His memoir, Unframed Originals: Recollections is one of my favorite books and is still in print. He is also a famously gifted translator and his newest book, co-translated with Takako Lento is Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson, who lived from 1716-1783, and is regarded on a level with Basho as one of Japan’s greatest poets.

Today and over the weekend, we will be posting poems and songs by Buson, beginning with three from a sequence he introduced as follows: “One day I set out for my old village to visit an old friend. As I crossed Yodo River and came to the Bank of Kema, I met a girl on her way back to her hometown. We traveled several miles, sometimes I went ahead of her, and sometimes she walked ahead of me. Once in a while we looked at each other and exchanged a word or two. She looked beautiful. Pity me for feeling attracted to her. I composed 18 songs, titled ‘Songs of Spring Breeze Over Kema Bank,’ in which I speak in her person, and express her feeling.’”

Our first selections from Yosa Buson (1716-1783):

On the way down the riverbank to pick flowers
thornbushes get in my way
why are they jealous of me
they tear at my kimono and scratch my thighs


Now I have seen three Springs
since I left my old place
and my little brother
I am like a plum blossom
on a twig grafted
onto a different tree
my roots forgotten


I think of my gentle mother
long long ago now
my gentle mother’s blossoms
from the spring of another world

(From Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson, Translated by W.S. Merwin and Takako Lento. Copyright © 2013 by W.S. Merwin and Takako U. Lento. Used by permission of The Wylie Agency, LLC. All rights reserved. Photo of plum blossoms by John Morgan)