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Zen and Pinsky

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since 09-18-99
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0 posted 05-15-2003 12:02 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

I was re-reading a collection of Pinsky's poems, Jersey Rain and flipped back to the first poem in the book, "Samurai Song" (here is a link to the poem):

On its face, the poem reads like a stark, Zen-like litany about discipline and self-sufficiency, but the final line is bothering me.  Prior to the final line, all of the "When I have no ..." lines are followed by a way in which the speaker compensates or adapts to not having something.  

In the last lines, Pinsky writes: "When I had / No lover I courted my sleep."

Which leads me to my questions:

Is the final line consistent with the the previous lines, or does it contrast with them (i.e., does sleep serve as an escape from a lack of something he, uniquely, cannot replace adequately)?

Is there a way to adapt or compensate for being without a "lover" in Zen teaching, or would "sleep" suffice in removing the barriers to enlightenment?

I think I'm trying to decide whether the last line wraps up a rather predictable, albeit well-written, poem or if Pinsky has thrown a subtle, clever turn in the end, but I'm not familiar enough with Zen to be sure.


[This message has been edited by jbouder (05-15-2003 12:03 PM).]

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1 posted 05-16-2003 11:28 AM       View Profile for ffpercent243   Email ffpercent243   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit ffpercent243's Home Page   View IP for ffpercent243

Not knowledgeable on Zen, but I know the great zen-haiku writers saw sleep as the chance to talk and question the inner self.


Only in sleep
Do I question my love
For these plants.


I wake -
And I realise that
I did not understand
After all.

Sleep to the haiku writers was a continuation to the pathway of enlightment, dreams were to be remembered and stored in the mind to help wake up the pathway to the Buddha.

My signature is from the Zen by the way.
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2 posted 05-16-2003 09:18 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos


From what I have studied about Zen Buddhism, the goal of life is to eradicate desire.  When I read this poem, it flows pretty consistent with this philosophy.  

Audacity he prefers to a roof.  This makes sense if audacity is taken to mean the boldness and confidence to deny coventional and socially accepted means of safety and comfort.  This sets the ascetic tone for the whole poem.

In the next few lines, seeking, listening, thinking, waiting ... these are more cognitive / spiritual modes that may contrast things like tasting, touching, and handling.  I could be reading more into this than is expressed however.

Going on ... care, order, opposing the body are all expressions of the ascetic life.

The first use of fortune is I think best interpreted  "destiny" or "fate" rather than riches, the second probably aludes to riches, for something with which the author compares "death".

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

When I have nothing ... death.  Is this the ultimate fulfillment of ending all desire for the Zen Buddhist?

Need and detachment are said to be tactical and strategic ... in accomplishing the death of desire?

The last line, seems to me to simply contrast the warm comfort of Earthly life with detachment and otherworldliness embodied in sleep.  Sleep is also an ancient metaphor for death.  

I think that the ending is pretty consistent with the beginning.  If there is a juxtaposition, I don't see it.


[This message has been edited by Stephanos (05-17-2003 11:09 AM).]

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