Ryokan was born in 1758 in the province of Echigo near the Sea of Japan. He became a monk in the Soto Zen lineage and despite having the opportunity to rise to heights, wandered off on a lifetime pilgrimage. He lived in a mountain hermitage resisting the requests to be abbot or anyone special until he died at the age of 73. In his lifetime he wrote thousands of poems and created many brushwork paintings.
i sat facing you for hours but you didn’t speak;
then i finally understood the unspoken meaning.
removed from their covers, books lay scattered about;
outside the bamboo screen, rain beats against the plum tree.
Ryokan’s poetry tends to catch me off guard. I pick up Dewdrops on a lotus leaf expecting he will let me drift like a crumpled leaf in a lazy brook. Or flipping through the pages, there’s a hope that the old monk will grant illumination to my hidden question like the hexagrams of the I-Ching.
One of these days, he may just do what I ask!