The Last Cherry Blossom

This week in dVerse Poetics Pub, the whole theme and prompt is about chivalry, knights, ladies, armor, jousts, courtly love, etc. going back in time. I have gone back in time to a different type of knight – the Samurai. There was also a joust where we chose a line from Brian or Claudia’s poem.  I have carried out this prompt for this poem, along with the medieval theme. The lines from their poems are in italics. This is for Open Link Night. dVerse Poetics link is: On my About Page, I have noted I am guided equally by the Ten Commandments and Bushido – a later term for the code of the warrior. It was traditional for the Samurai, before committing seppuku or going into battle, to write a death poem. One of the greatest writers of haiku, Basho, was Samurai.

red armor

It was an omen –
He knew it.
Last year the cherry blossoms
were in full bloom.
During the night
a cold wind blew
and in the morning snow was on the ground.
Pink petals fell too early
and gleamed like blood
on the snow.
He knew – it would be the
last time he saw the cherry trees bloom.

In the summer, he had
acted as second for his brother,
dying of a wasting disease.
A brave warrior,
he wanted to die with honor.
And so, he had committed
the ritual seppuku,
freeing his soul.

The night before leaving for battle,
At evening meal he looked
at his wife and children.
The two eldest sons would join him
in battle.
The two youngest and his daughter
would stay behind.
Inside he mourned
for his two sons who
would never wear the red armor
passed to him from his father
and his grandfather.
He knew they would die
in the plain armor
of first battle –
Well made of leather
and iron scales and
lacquered black.
He would die in the red armor
and unless their enemies
had honor, the armor
would never be returned to his wife.
In the matters of life and death,
of battles and births, he said
within himself,
we’ve lost our capacity
to count

He looked at his wife,
the oldest and plainest of her sisters.
But she was graceful and had added
much to his life – intelligent,
she educated his children well
just as he taught them
the code of the warrior.
He looked at his daughter
and she smiled.
She was his sunlight
and one of her dimples
could not be bought for all
the gold in the kingdom.
Intelligent like her mother
but with the winsome beauty
of his mother.
She was brave and fierce
when she fought.
When paired with Maggi’s
son, he bested her
but she broke his nose
of which he was too proud.

His wife went into their store
room and brought forth a roll of
silk, the clear blue of an autumn sky
as a gift for her.
Her brothers clapped her on
her shoulder as if she was one
of them and praised her swordsmanship.
His heart burst with pride
at his daughter warrior.

He would be leaving his home
in the capable hands of his wife
to be maintained and defended.
The small chest in the store room
was full of coins and
there was cloth and silk
and food for them and their
servants and animals.
Should another man take her to wife,
if he were wise, he would find his
life greatly enriched and enlarged
by her wisdom and bravery.

That night, they made love
with the fire and speed
of youth.
As she slept, he touched
her cheeks to find them
wet with tears.
He realized the tears were his own.

He walked that night
in his garden.
Time stands still…
Tomorrow, he and his sons
would ride to battle.
A cold wind blew off the mountain –
he reached up to touch the
cherry buds, tightly curled.
He would never see them bloom.
He then wrote his death poem
to leave for his wife.

Death Poem of Masashi Kenata – 1538 – 1580
bitter winter winds –
in the garden the sleeping
cherry blossoms wait
for spring sun to awaken –
I can only dream.

copyright kanzensakura

copyright kanzensakura

43 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mustang.Koji
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 13:51:19

    What moving poems… Indeed, to write a farewell also lays grief upon the reader.


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 14:10:26

      Thank you. I read over a thousand of the death poems and they all had that universal acceptance, wistfulness, We tend to sometimes forget that human under the armor. I wanted him to be alive for us. And the grief laid on us also gives us the heart of one who dies in a very special way.


  2. Daedalus Lex
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 13:54:32

    Great poem — the imagery, the character, historical setting, the simple directness. On a tangent, I’ve never been able to see or imagine cherry blossoms without thinking of that line from Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”:

    “I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.”


  3. Sarah
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 14:14:27

    Beautiful and poignant. ❤


  4. smilecalm
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 14:40:38

    may hope
    for blossoms
    prevail through
    the longest winters 🙂


  5. bmiller007 (@bmiller007)
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 15:23:23

    whew. the thought…i feel for him…for losing her to his own death in the coming battle…but also for the loss of the armor and realizing that it ends here…that it will most likely not pass on to his sons, his family…

    on a side note, the cherry blossoms are some of my fav things…i love to stand in the rain of them…


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 15:54:15

      Isn’t that rain wonderful? The day I took over 50 photos of the blooms, I ended up with the petals everywhere – hair, socks, blouse….white and pink, single and double. You would love hanami in Japan. all the folks picnicking and partying under the trees while the petals fall all over them, their food, into their wine, the children trying to catch the petals. I do love the sakura.


  6. MarinaSofia
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 15:29:33

    What a moving poem by Masashi Kenata – and I love the whole world and biography that you have created around him and around that poem. But then you know I’m a fan of all things Japanese.


  7. claudia
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 15:40:34

    oh heck… so tough when he knows he will never see her again – he will never see spring again… so much loss here and yet so much love and wonderful pride as well


  8. Grace
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 15:57:20

    A beautifully written story ~ I love the background of cherry blossoms and family values – passing the red armor, to die with honor ~ The death poem at the end is a fitting tribute to the brave warrior ~ I enjoyed the share ~


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 16:01:15

      I am so glad! You will note, he was 42 when he wrote his death poem.


      • Grace
        Feb 28, 2015 @ 16:48:53

        Noted thanks ~ And I can’t wait for the cherry blossoms here to start ~ We have a park full of cherry trees donated by the Japanese ~


        • kanzensakura
          Feb 28, 2015 @ 18:20:55

          How wonderful! do they have a Sakura Matsuri? I’ll send you some links for food for hanami – picknicing during Cherry Blossom season… is wonderful to eat under them. hanami in Japan is a great occasion and where there are large Japanese communities.


  9. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 17:49:44

    Somehow the strongest piece of the story and the poem is the fact that though he was still young he felt his life to be fulfilled through his daughter, and though his armor might have been lost, he knew that his legacy was passed through the women of the family.. I like how you have weaved the amazing death-poem with your narrative.. I think this is how I would like to see a haibun with more poetry in the narrative part..


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 18:13:41

      Exactly. It is one I intend to do more work on in future. And the women will carry on that legacy. Higher class women, such as the wives of Samurai, were well educated and many times, as formidable as their husbands in the use of the katana or bow. While they were not allowed to carry the daishi (long/short – double swords in the obi), they were allowed to carry and wield the katana and oftentimes, were the ones who kept the finances, inventories, etc. straight. I wrote the death poem first. it was a hard write because I know this fictional man so well, I wanted it to do him honor.


  10. Gabriella
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 20:42:58

    This made me think of ‘The Last Samurai’. I know the film was a bit kitschy but I enjoyed the glimpse into the code of honors of the samurais.


  11. Gay Reiser Cannon
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 21:57:01

    Wow – a mythology, a saga, a novel in short, an emotional yet rational internal monologue of bravery. The second equally tight – a tanka of refinement. Excellent!


  12. zongrik
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 02:34:31

    what a bummer, to know you are going to die. each minute. that’s it, you will die. but I guess for some, that means you can fight all out, because the fear is already there, and the outcome is knows.

    in state, faithful lying


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 01, 2015 @ 11:08:40

      Long ago, I was told when going into battle, to always accept your death as a given. That way, you would be freed from the fear of dying and opened completely to living fully.


  13. lucychili
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 03:33:43

    you capture this turning point for the family vividly


  14. Prajakta
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 05:39:09

    This was a touching piece! What he felt was something so lucid and poignant…


  15. Desmond, Anthony (@iamEPanthony)
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 14:56:07

    this read like great manga… smiles… I love this tale; felt short because I enjoyed reading it so much… He knew he wasn’t going to her again – tough; and to leave her with a death poem is even more weight on her… the part that really touched me was when he kissed her wet cheeks and realized it was his own tears…


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 01, 2015 @ 15:59:46

      Thank you Anthony. Your words mean a lot to me. I am glad you didn’t feel the tears were too sentimental. I like people getting to know that man under his armor. The death poems actually were meant to be comfort and to show the loved one the heart and feelings about death not being frightening but part of life itself.

      Since you enjoyed this, I have written a five part story based on the real man behind this poem – a very modern day man. the link to the first part is:

      It is in prose and not the best prose, but if you want to check it out, there is the link. I don’t often promote links on my sight because I feel like I am forcing people to read something. But again, you may find it interesting, or not.


  16. lightwalker1
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 21:22:56

    You beautifully captured the honour of the great Samurai. In love and light Cheryle


  17. katiemiafrederick
    Mar 02, 2015 @ 14:25:18

    A wonderful song of the FULL appreciation of life.. even when one knows they must sacrifice life for death.. so others may live..:)


  18. Bryan Ens
    Mar 02, 2015 @ 16:48:22

    each time I read your words, I become more and more convinced that you have the heart of a true poet. So much depth and sincerity in this.


  19. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade)
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 01:52:19

    I found this enthralling, and also loved the source poem you included.


    • kanzensakura
      Mar 03, 2015 @ 10:42:02

      The death poem was actually made up to go along with my fictional Samurai. I’ve read a number of the Samurai death poems and based this one on that form, tone, and his omen about the cherry blossom. I am so glad you enjoyed. I like when that happens.


  20. dani
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 19:44:11

    i love this! (especially the daughter warrior.){smile} your writing is wonderful!


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