Hakuin - Death

Poems from the New Year Death Poem Workshop

On January 6, we had a workshop during which we discussed the tradition of writing death poems in Zen and Japanese culture. We then spent some time writing and sharing our own death poems, some of which are included below. Deep appreciation to all participants!

I Won’t Go!
One more taste of the sweet nectar of this life!
Ah… there…

Let her go, this Alice Jean.
Your blessing like breath on a dandelion, she scatters thus.

Lightening strikes the tree.
Split open to its core.
Aah, there look!
I wasn’t “Me” all along.

- Alice Jean

Walking at sunset
You lightly hold my arm
Tonight I may let go completely
- Brian

God, I love Susan.
Thank you.

Damn, I’m going to miss
Martin Scorcese’s next picture.
- Dean                                                         ※

One day, or one hundred years,

every story is whole and complete.

I can’t say I’ll ever be wholly willing to leave you–

my precious ones,

or you, wondrous world of blue, and moon,

the smell of water, the sound of rain.

But I am so glad we found one another


So, give me your hand now,

and I’ll take my last leap

into your heart.

And I’ll be

there (when you need me)

safe and warm

and laughing.

- Dojin

As the flame starts to flicker, I ask,
“Can you wait a moment longer?”
Maybe then I’ll be ready to go.

Breathing out, I wonder.
Is this it?  The last one?
Then I hear the rattle in my chest return.
Not quite yet…

As I sit facing the wall,
I feel this world recede.
Those soft, familiar faces fade.
Something new is coming into view.

So grateful for this brief sojourn.
My body starting to chill.
Yet smouldering embers persist,
So to spark the next cooking fire.

Silence follows the robin’s song.
Darkness settles after sunset.
This final outbreath soothes the room.
No need to worry now.

I watch my father age and falter,
The trees drop their leaves.
Yet I am blind to how this world persists,
On beyond my presence.

My death, not a concern before,
Scares me since I have raised a child.
Non-attachment has a different tone,
When I see the sadness in her eyes.
- Gary

All burnt up, but is the end the end?
Do I go nowhere into nothing?
Or, from one fierce embrace into another?
From bright dreams filled with you and me to a more intimate slumber?

The warm laughter around the camp fire,
I offer to you all.
And if in the last moments there is a lot of smoke,
I hope it doesn’t get in your eyes.
- Korin

Hold the hand of Lady Death through
this gracious dance,
through the eyes of God, through
the whimper of a small child,
this mercy,
this brilliance,
and gone.
- Lisa

Finally, my pound of flesh!
Already gone. Not diminished.
Are you here yet?
with patience comes acceptance.
It’s never too late.
Good morning,
Death. What’s new…
Has the snow melted?
Chill out: haha
- Liz

This box of death may be my last gift to you.
Open the perfectly fitting lid.
You won’t need to save the wrapping.
Inside you will find a stone.  A fish.  A mirror.  A string of pearls.  A key.  Pine pitch.  A silver dollar.  An owl feather.
Or some other object made of the most ordinary matter, perfect in design and function,
Bridging nothing and everything.
- Myozen

Karmic clouds
Born of my body, speech and mind
If you must continue,
Oh please, flow gently on and on
As I take my leave.
- Peggy

Ah! How I’ve loved this life!
Oh! Please be OK without me!
The door opens – I can dance again!
- Susan