Monday, July 6, 2009

Ikkyu Bones

Several illustrations from Skeletons by Ikkyu. Note side-blown flute player.

Ikkyu's Shakuhachi (Hitoyogiri 1.1)
box reads "Ikkyu oshou=priest, Shakuhachi Shuunan: the name of the temple that shakuhachi (to be correct Hitiyogiri=short shakuhachi not 1.8 but 1.1 and slim) belongs to this temple.



Music from the shakuhachi, sorrow difficult to bear,
Blowing into the barbarian flute, a song at the frontier;
At the crossroads, whose piece does he play?
Among the students of Zen, I have few friends.

Shakuhachi: A bamboo flute with a very shrill sound. Wandering mendicant monks called komuso played the shakuhachi as they went about begging.

Barbarian flute: A flute made of reed with no holes for fingering. It was used among the barbarians on the borders of China and was renowned for its sad sound.

This is a description of Ikkyu's loneliness. He hears an unfamiliar song played on a shakuhachi at the crossroads and imagines that he is at some frontier post in China hearing the strange music of the barbarians. The poem as a whole is reminiscient of lonely duties at frontier outposts.
Ikkyu himself was known to have played shakuhachi in the streets.

From Ikkyu Sojun: A Zen Monk and his Poetry by Sonja Arntzen