Bussokusekika #20

Bussokusekika is a rare form of Japanese poetry that consists of six lines written in a 5-7-5-7-7-7 mora pattern. Arising during the Nara period, the form had essentially died out by the Heian period. For centuries, the only existing examples were the twenty one poems inscribed beside the stone Buddha Foot monument at Yakushi Temple in Nara, Japan, by an unknown author around 753 CE. Though not of particular literary value, the pieces—written in Man’yōgana, a medieval syllabic script—have religious significance: the first seventeen praise Buddha and his life while the last four extol the four-fold Buddhist path and advise against worldly attachments.

Here is the 20th bussokusekika from the Nara Temple.

As brief as a flash
of lightning in stormy skies
is this human flesh—
since the Emperor of Death
stands forever at our side,
should we not tremble with fear?

—translated by David Bowles
April 28, 2014

Original Japanese

Ikazuchi no
hikari no gotoki
kore no mi wa
shini no ōkimi
tsuneni tagueri
ozubekarazu ya

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