Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jisei - Death Poems: In Honor of Troy Anthony Davis

Long ago, Samurai accepting their death were expected to write death poems moments before their end.  These death poems were called jisei, and the practice continued for many centuries.

Tonight the state of Georgia executed a man whom I believe to have been innocent, as do thousands and thousands of people around the world, including 7 of the 9 people who testified against him in his trial.  Those seven people recanted their testimony.  The warden of the Georgia State Death Row believed him to be innocent.  The former head of the FBI Warren Sessions and Georgia Congressman Bob Bar, a four term Republican who is a death penalty supporter also believed in his innocence.  All three petitioned for his stay of execution.  At 11:08 EST, Troy Davis was given his lethal injection.

In honor of Troy and for his family, I offer these Jisei:

died September 9, 1769, at 49:

During his last moment, Shisui's disciples requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died. The circle— indicating the void, the essence of everything, enlightenment— is one of the most important symbols of Zen Buddhism.

Minamoto Yorimasa
Like a rotten log 
half buried in the ground - 
my life, which 
has not flowered, comes 
to this sad end. 

Ota Dokan
Had I not known 
that I was dead 
I would have mourned 
my loss of life. 

Ôuchi Yoshitaka
Both the victor 
and the vanquished are 
but drops of dew, 
but bolts of lightning - 
thus should we view the world.

Died in 1767 
Cicada shell:  
little did I know
it was my life.


  1. Enjoyed those. Thanks. Well done with Japanese. I could not do it.

  2. Thank you John. I can't really translate them either. I hope someday, before my own end, to be able to have accomplished enough in the language to translate a jisei myself. And maybe even to write one worth sharing leaving behind...