Aug 14 – Kenji Miyazawa 宮沢 賢治 “Be Not Defeated by the Rain”

Monday, August 14, 2017    “Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables”

In late August 2015,  Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa met me for the first time when I first posted this poem; it was found in his trunk after he died young in 1933.    His poem stops me —  as the middle of Lake Michigan can under its stars at 2:00 am,  or 18 men this weekend,  still and leaning in on our chairs to hear each other telling stories from our lives across 60 years.   Some of us are Jesuits, some former Jesuits; we gathered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where we first met to risk Jesuit life 60 years ago this month in August 1957.  Mostly we were teenagers with our lives waiting for us. So we told stories — falling in love, engaging with our children, burying our loves, taking deep wounds and sometimes inflicting them, going to work and coming home — paying the prices that adults do.  60 years gave us many stories —  “good times and bad, in sickness and in health.”  So we listened to stories, laughing and crying and breathing.  We were sad when we left that place of grace Sunday afternoon.

Kenji Miyawa’s voice was schooled by the 1920s and 1930s, hard times on the Pacific rim.    Even more than most poems, “Be Not Defeated” should reward reading aloud with pauses.

Have a blest work week.  Breathe sometimes today.

john sj


Today’s Post  —  “Do not be defeated by the rain”

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat
Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables
Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well
Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines
Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles
Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all
Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be

Kenji Miyazawa, 27 August 1896 – 21 September 1933, was a Japanese poet and author of children’s literature from Hanamaki, Iwate in the late Taishō and early Shōwa periods. He was also known as an agricultural science teacher, a vegetarian, cellist, devout Buddhist, and utopian social activist.[1]}  “Be Not Defeated by the Rain”  translated from the original Japanese by Hart Larrabee. Text as posted on Tomo (08/05/2012).

Curator’s note: After the poet’s death, a black notebook containing this text was found in his trunk. The poem appears in bold strokes amidst his repetitious copying of a Buddhist mantra. According to its date (November 3, 1931), he had composed it while on his deathbed. He was only in his thirties. Visit this link to view a photograph of the poem in the notebook, the original Japanese text, two very different translations (including Larrabee’s, which I prefer), and interviews with the interpreters.

Posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Aug 19, 2015 12:00 am

Art credit: “Girl in the rain,” Giclée print by Pavlo Tereshin.

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