22.06.2011

The Fifth Season of Life - Dreams Wander On, edited by Robert Epstein (2) -

What is death? 
After reading Robert Epstein's unique anthology, the outline of answer becomes, for me, more and more expressive: Death is The Fifth Season of Life.

Death.
After all, without the Life there is no HER. (I should write down 'HIM' for English speakers.)

But the Zen Masters arrive at thought: "He who will die before death, will die never more".

In his multi-pages introduction, Robert Epstein has written: "Death is everywhere, and yet nowhere to be found (p. 15.)

The tradition of writing of the death poems (辞世の句 jisei no ku) is, of course, the attribute of Japanese culture. The author of jisei could be a haijin, a monk or a samurai, many kamikadze pilots wrote jisei before their last flight as well.

For the western culture, every poem, in some sense, is about love/life or death.

Dreams Wander On is the first publication of that kind at English-language market. The only collection up till now is  Hoffmann, Yoel, Japanese DeathPoems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death, Charles E. Tuttle Company: USA, Rutland, Vermont, 1986. And in haiga form, Carolyn Thomas has published her own death poems: No wind: a collection of death poems in haiga form.

The true jisei is a poem written just before one’s death. In Robert Epstein’s anthology we can find only a few haiku directly reffering to “the last breath”. Such kind of poems are Allen Ginsberg’s haiku and three, the last ones William J. Higginson wrote.

With the whole “death content”, the anthology doesn’t carry signs of a fear, it is far away from gloom or despair, what is characteristic for catastrophic vision of death. The contained works in Dreams Wander On are particular encounters of man with oneself, with its thoughts on death and passing. The reader of these poems is only and just a mute witness. The pointed out attitude toward death becomes a mirror, where our “death thoughts” can reflect.

The vision of death emerging out of the pages of this special collection is a “tamed vision”, sometimes presented with proper gravity, sometimes demonstrated with a pinch of humor or irony.

Robert Epstein’s book deeply moving and leaves permanent traces in us, because only “a thought on death gives the hue of eternity to the events of life” (Simone Well / trans. L.Sz.)

And I will conclude my post with Platonic quote from The Apology of Socrates, which opens Robert Epstein's anthology:

"No one knows whether death, which people fear to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good."

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