Japan poetry and a life blighted by ill-health: Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

Japan poetry and a life blighted by ill-healthMasaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The final years of the life of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) were filled with pain and long-lasting suffering. Ultimately, his life was cut short from the ravages of tuberculosis and other ailments that stemmed from this. 

Shiki understood the frailty of life concerning the death of his alcoholic father when he was a small child. Also, unlike his alcoholic father, his grandfather was a Confucian scholar who installed a different way of life. Therefore, Shiki understood the chaotic nature of life when only a young child. 

His childhood – at a time when the Meiji Restoration of 1868 was altering the political, religious, and social landscape – generated a wealth of emotions and passions. In time, this would bless his poetry.

From 1888/1889 onwards, the shadow of tuberculosis blighted his life. Yet, despite the pernicious shadow of death for someone so young – and the pain he felt in the last 7 to 8 years of life – he bravely endured and focused on poetry and other important matters. 

Despite horrendous adversity concerning his health – and the economic angle of supporting people – he still emerges to be one of the masters of haiku. Hence, his name echoes alongside the esteemed names of Matsuo Basho, Kobayashi Issa, and Yosa Buson.

Shiki wrote, “Until now I had mistaken the “Enlightenment” of Zen: I was wrong to think it meant being able to die serenely under any conditions. It means being able to live serenely under any conditions.”

His short life created more decades of poetry than his actual age when he passed away from this earth. Hence, his legacy remains potent today. 

Art by Sawako Utsumi





http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/sawako-utsumi.html – Sawako Utsumi and where you can buy her art, postcards, bags, and other products. Also, individuals can contact her for individual requests.


[Masaoka Shiki: His Life and Works by Janine Beichman, p. 129.] – Translation by Janine Beichman


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