Open Link – d’Verse Poetics – Samurai Death Poem

It was a tradition for the literate Japanese (monks and Samurai for example) to write death poems shortly before their anticipated death or battle. With the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn, we see changes as the seasons of spring and summer end. All things pass.

This is not a morbid subject at all. It is rather, an exercise in fiction writing for me. Although the “death poem of a Samurai”, it is “written” by a fictional Samurai character I have created, but based on a real person. I have been working on this for some time and this is the debut of this poem. I have chosen to buck the tradition a bit and have composed this using three Japanese poetic forms -I) haiku II) tanka III) senryu

I am presenting this at today’s Open Link event at d’Verse Poetics pub. I hope you enjoy. Please visit us today to read all the different poems linked. Open Link is a non-prompted event and so many excellent poets link their varied poems. Come and link one of your own!  Here is the link to d’Verse:


illus. Yoshitoshi Tsukikoko - death poem of Gen. Akashi Gidayu - wiki image

illus. Yoshitoshi Tsukikoko – death poem of Gen. Akashi Gidayu – wiki image


how brief the blossoms
of the cherry tree – their
lives end at sunset.
snow falling at dawn –
melting flakes gone before day –
bare branches feel them
drift through skeletal fingers –
birds sleep as they fall.
cherry blossom moon
holds back the night sky – my night
will conquer that moon.

49 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Glenn Buttkus
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 15:27:01

    I really enjoyed this; perhaps combining these 3 forms could be a new form promulgated/created by you for MTB. I have been known to use tanka, haiku, & American sentences as part of a haibun. I like your lines /bare branches feel them/drift through skeletal fingers/.


  2. kanzensakura
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 15:33:36

    Thank you Glenn. For now, I shall keep this hybrid form for myself.


  3. robert okaji
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 16:12:48

    I like the form, K. I works very well!


  4. Pleasant Street
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 16:25:14

    This is so lovely and brief. I like the image of the bird sleeping as the petals fall. I think I like III the very best.


  5. Sanaa Rizvi
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 16:27:26

    This is absolutely beautiful….!! So moving 🙂


  6. skyraftwanderer
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 16:43:37

    beautiful imagery and form.

    great choice of illustration as well.


  7. tamekamullins
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 16:53:53

    Thanks for explaining the meaning of the death poems. I don’t think it’s morbid at all. Taking time to reflect on your life and sum it up poetically is very beautiful to me.

    I loved your poem. Writing tightly like this takes more time than it sometimes does to write longer pieces. I feel like I know this person from reading the poem and I would honor their life and their passing with respect. Great job.


    • kanzensakura
      Sep 17, 2015 @ 17:06:11

      Thank you so very much, it means a lot to me. I was hesitant to mix the three forms. Some of the different death poems are cynical and some are just plain humorous.

      Sent by Outlook for Android


      • tamekamullins
        Sep 17, 2015 @ 17:52:30

        You’re welcome! It’s fun to play around and buck convention isn’t it? I do it all the time. No need to be nervous.We can take creative license as poets. 🙂


  8. tamekamullins
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 16:56:13

    I shared this on Twitter as well. 🙂


  9. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 17:10:48

    To wrap up your life in a death poem is something very special… The cherry blossom moon sounds like something I wouldn’t want to part with.


    • kanzensakura
      Sep 17, 2015 @ 20:36:50

      I know.  Or the moon reflecting on snow…so much to wistful of leaving.

      Sent by Outlook for Android

      From: kanzen sakura

      Sent: Thursday, September 17, 5:10 PM

      Subject: [kanzen sakura] Comment: “Open Link – d’Verse Poetics – Samurai Death Poem”



  10. Grace
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 17:58:42

    Each poem is lovely to read Toni ~ I like the imagery of death in each one- from cherry blooms to falling birds to the moon ~ I am really taken with the last one with – my night will conquer the moon ~ Wow, thanks for the share ~


  11. Gabriella
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 18:33:58

    I agree that your poem feels more wistful than sad. I like the transient images your words conjured up.


  12. ihatepoetry
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 18:37:16

    This was quietly powerful – great writing.


  13. Victoria C. Slotto
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 19:01:59

    This is one of those poems that makes me want to hit like a hundred times! I think I want to print it out and keep it on hand for the future. I love how the cherry blossoms bookend the poem–such a wonderful use of metaphor and the three forms.


    • kanzensakura
      Sep 17, 2015 @ 20:05:17

      Oh Victoria, thank you so very much. I was so anxious about combining the three traditional forms in an unconventional manner. I am so pleased you like. I’ve been working on and fretting over this one for awhile. Thank you.


  14. Bodhirose
    Sep 17, 2015 @ 20:50:35

    What a coincidence, I had just recently posted some of my own Japanese Death Poems on my blog. I’m fascinated by this art form and found your poem very moving. I love the references to cherry blossoms and their short lives and your phrase “bare branches feel them, drift through skeletal fingers”…perfect image for portraying a life nearing its end.

    Like you, I really love these short forms of poetry and when they’re done well nothing beats them for their emotional “punches.”


    • kanzensakura
      Sep 17, 2015 @ 20:57:43

      And I find out from Grace, you will be a guest blogger talking about just this subject. I was please but at the same time, I feel like such a yutz when you know so much about the subject. It was a risk to mix the three forms and I am always so traditional with them. But I am looking forward to your guest blogging and learning more new things. And to think you write them also. That incredible. I am also one for not staying in 100 words what I can say in 20.


      • Bodhirose
        Sep 17, 2015 @ 23:04:54

        Yes, I just sent Grace my presentation tonight in fact. I have to admit when I saw your posting I may have gasped a little…haha. 🙂 And honestly I don’t know so much about the subject. Maybe a year or so ago I found a group on Facebook that writes these poems and their page is called Japanese Death Poems. I was very intrigued. This group does not write them to form and are very loose with what constitutes a death poem…maybe a little too loose. 🙂 But in my research I found that most are written with a lot of leeway so I have presented it in that way but also have illustrated what haiku and tanka are which is how they were traditionally written. And if you’ve been around dVerse very long, you realize that boundaries are sometimes pushed when it comes to form and it’s all just fine. I like what you did! No worries.


  15. me_duress
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 02:21:57

    Just so beautiful. It almost has a very calming feel to it. I just had to read it out loud.


  16. MarinaSofia
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 03:12:08

    The last of the three really takes it to a deeper level, while the first is the most traditional from the Japanese point of view (or so it seems to me). Emotion recalled in tranquillity – the very essence of restraint and elegance.


  17. Madeleine Begun Kane
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 04:15:38

    So beautifully done. Thanks!


  18. Sarah
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 04:57:00

    Hi, I love, LOVE the new look. 😀 Sorry I haven’t visited for a while – I went on an unexpected blogging break. I’m not properly back now either but I saw your death poem in the Reader and couldn’t resist stopping by. I’m so glad I did. Your poetry is always worth the trip. 🙂


  19. othermary
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 07:03:31

    What a great, omnious closing line.


  20. Linda Kruschke
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 09:56:43

    Beautiful! And not morbid at all, as you say. All things must end that the new may begin. Peace, Linda


  21. Mama Zen
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 11:56:48

    Exquisite. The bit of internal rhyme in the tanka really adds to the piece, I think.


  22. Mary
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 17:19:14

    Just lovely, Toni. Such gentle and well chosen words. Doesn’t seem like a death poem, but one which explores the cycle of life.


  23. Kathy Reed
    Sep 18, 2015 @ 21:22:18

    I have a renewed interest in these forms and you inspire me to give it a try.
    Life could not be more beautiful in such a beautiful setting; therefore, more than a fitting scene or poem for death….coincidentally, I just watched the 60’s movie “Sayonara” with Marlon Brando which I have always thought was his best. The suicide of his friend and his wife left such an impression on me that I will never forget. Your poem is dignified and full of enchantment.


    • kanzensakura
      Sep 18, 2015 @ 22:10:59

      Thank you. That was indeed quite a movie. Quite recently, is a movie based on fact, 47 Ronin with oddly enough, Keanu Reeves and my favorite, the real deal, Hiroyuki Sanada. There is a scene where a group is going to commit seppuku and we see them in formal bow with their poems beside them. A very dignified demonstration of honor and vindication. Beautifully photographed, I watched and wept. It was gentle, accepted, holy. But sometimes, the poems can be cynical and funny. A general writes, here I lie like a rotting log. Usually the poems are tanka or traditional haiku. I went kind of crazy and used all three. But it is in keeping with mujo, plunging into change. I think you will very much exploring the forms. There are good articles on kireji and lists of kigo. But living by the sea with its seasons, you would have some excellent, different kigo just as we down south have.


  24. sreejaharikrishnan
    Sep 19, 2015 @ 03:29:05

    Beautiful lines….loved all the three and the last line is so good….


  25. Ayala
    Sep 19, 2015 @ 18:02:58



  26. Bryan Ens
    Sep 20, 2015 @ 00:09:39

    Beautiful! (but then, I’m not surprised by that from you!!). Your death poem certainly echoes what you said in the introduction…that it is not a morbid topic. You give death the persona of a change in season. We will all certainly die…just like the cherry blossom falls…but we still leave a legacy…there is still (hopefully) some beauty that we have left the world with.


    • kanzensakura
      Sep 20, 2015 @ 12:43:40

      I know. I would like to think that the few people who will remember me, that they will remember me with kindness and that I tried to be kind to all. I am the last of my line but I have a few friends that may outlive me. There are people who will never know me that were fed, clothed and housed and it is enough they know that someone was kind. My cat….now, when he doesn’t get when he wants when he wants it thinks I am a meanie. 🙂


  27. Nato
    Sep 24, 2015 @ 06:22:35

    Every line intrigued me as it painted a very vivid picture. Thank you for publishing.


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