Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Composure of Trees

My thoughts seem to be stuck on Japan, this being the third post in a week related to Japan or things Japanese. Must be the season that’s sending my ruminations eastward to my longtime home. Whatever the reason, during a walk today I began thinking about a Japanese poet I’ve long liked, and one of his poems in particular.

There may be some who would argue my description, but Kinoshita Yûji (1903-1965) is a poet I would call obscure, or at least obscure to all but those with a particular interest in modern Japanese poetry. I have mentioned his name to a great many Japanese people and most are unfamiliar with both his name and his writing. So, I use the word obscure.

The defining characteristic of Kinoshita’s life was the tension created by unhappiness in his work as a rural pharmacist, and his yearning to be a sophisticated urban poet living in Tokyo. As a young man studying French literature at university in Tokyo, fate dealt him a cruel blow when his stepfather died forcing him to return home and take over the family pharmacy. Thus, he spent his life in the remote countryside mixing medicine by day and writing poetry at night.

Kinoshita had a special affinity for trees and saw in them the characteristics and ideals he hoped to emulate. He wrote many poems with trees as his subject, one of them the poem, “A Felled Tree” included in his collection, Flute Player published in 1958. The translation below is by Robert Epp and comes from his book, Treelike, The Poetry of Kinoshita Yûji. In his poem Kinoshita observes the fall of a tall tree by the roadside and expresses the hope that his own death can be met with the same composure and sense of fulfillment that he sees in the tree.


Today I stood by the roadside and watched

a tall tree sawed down

Aware of its maturity

the tree seemed to take the saw calmly

with a sense of satisfaction and confidence

I noted a composure born of fulfillment

even in twigs and leaves quivering on the ground

Night now I suppose

that a huge black cloth covers those scars

that stars sparkle beautifully around them

that birds plying the night sky

feel a chilly emptiness on their wings

at the height at the spot where the tree spread out

You who will one day saw me down

at life’s end

do you suppose I too might know that repose that hush?

Do you suppose I’ll be capable of feeling then

what I felt today as I watched by the roadside?

We see in Kinoshita’s words a hope that his own death can be met with a similar composure and sense of fulfillment with life that he observes in the fallen tree.


  1. Nice. But I also liked the image you painted--"...he spent his life in the remote countryside mixing medicine by day and writing poetry at night." There's something so yearningly human in that--mixing medicine to make others feel better while using his poetry as medicine for his own well-being, his own soul.

  2. Blog today sounds very sad, but it really isn't because it is a story of a man who spent his life really helping others even though he sacrificed what he felt would have made his own life complete. He will receive his reward one day. I liked the poem. Beverly


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America