Saigyo 1118-1190

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Saigyo 1118-1190 Born into a warrior clan. became a monk in 1140. he practiced on Mount Koya, Kukai's old temple where the discilines were severe and often painful. Disciples were instructed to emulate the sufferings of beings in the three lower realms of the six-tired Buddhist cosmology. Hawling heavy burdens up and down the mountain gave one the experience of life as an animal. Receiving only meagre provisions of food provided insight into the fate of a hungry ghost. Being tongue-lashed with accounts of one's faults and physically beated with a cane provided a taste of life in hell.

He started life as a minor samurai in the court of ex-Emperor Toba 1103-1156, but at the age of 23 he suddenly abandoned both the court and his family, and lived as a wandering poet for the rest of his life.

Basho explicitly named Saigyo, who lived four centuries earlier, as the poet of the past to whom he was most indebted. But Basho is modern, Saigyo's view of reality is clearly medieval. To a degree not seen in any other poet of his time, he prefaced many of his verses with prose introductions that located his poems in time, space and occasion. His poems, with rare exceptions, are all waka, 31 syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 sequence. lavish emploment of homonyms in Japanese poetry results in in whole phrases and sometimes whole poems can have more than one reading. Engo, words associated with the meanings of other words elsewhere in the waka.

In 1190, at the age of 73, Saigyo died in his mountain temple home of Hirokawa-dera, south of Osaka. To this day his grave in the temple grounds is the site of various ceremonies celebrating his life and literary achievement.

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