Matsuo Sakura

Sakura, an overlooked Japanese poet, was a contemporary of Matsuo Basho. Only his prose “Cherry in Autumn or Advice to Young Poets” has survived. This is my version of Harry Henderson’s translation (1881).

When young don’t forget
you’re a sapling among trees,
however sparkling.

Older poets do
not wish to be outshone so
be gentle with them

and don’t try to beat
all your peers to the mountain.
There’s a way to go.

You should enjoy all
the temptations of the world,
red silk on your skin,

then put them all in
perspective, build a house where
you can live and work.


Each generation
makes a different kind of pot
but it’s still all clay.

There are fashions so
be true to your inner voice,
sing your own true song.

When criticism
comes like an unwanted guest
be hospitable.

When he’s gone you can
test your work again for faults
but don’t ask those you

think are near for they’ll
tell you whatever they think
you would like to hear.

[Part of the text is missing here]

Listen to strangers;
read all the books you can find
and read them deeply,

for only in that way
do you find out what you don’t
want or need to write.


I’m old now, my need’s
just a bowl for food and drink,
a satchel for care.

I’ve travelled far and
soon must take my final leave
so I’ll give you this:

sincerity must
lie in your search for the truth,
but don’t sit too long

under this cherry,
make your journey to wisdom.
Never forget to

honour the old gods;
note migrations of wild geese;
always travel light.


Published in Acumen September 2010