I spent the afternoon with my family walking through the glorious landscapes of the San Francisco Botanical Garden. I was especially pleased while visiting the quintessentially Japanese Moon Viewing Garden (see below), with its lovely plants, stone pagodas, and moon viewing platform, and I could almost imagine myself lingering in a similar garden in Kyoto or Nara. However, my pleasant reverie ended abruptly when I read a plaque indicating that a tree beside the viewing pool was dedicated to the memory of Katharine Rexroth Leavitt, who died at age 42. I instantly knew that this woman was the daughter of Kenneth Rexroth, one of my favorite American poets and the translator of “One Hundred Poems from the Japanese.” My heart grew heavy, and I spent several moments in silent meditation pondering the truth of my own mortality. To honor the memory of Katharine Rexroth Leavitt, and to remind everyone that we are all sojourners in an ephemeral and uncertain world, I am posting three Japanese poems translated by Kenneth Rexroth that poignantly describe the human condition.
“A strange old man
Looking out of my deep mirror.”
“Others may forget you, but not I.
I am haunted by your beautiful ghost.”
-The Empress Yamatohime
“As I watch the moon
Shining on pain’s myriad paths,
I know I am not
Alone involved in Autumn.”
–Oe No Chisato