Monday, November 21, 2016

One Man's Maple Moon: Single Flower Tanka by Kiyoko Ogawa

English Original

all my life
I expect no grand bouquet
yet wish for
someone to greet me
with a single flower

Scribblings Award, Eucalypt, 14, 2013

Kiyoko Ogawa 

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Kiyoko Ogawa is a Kyoto-born poet, essayist and academic.  She has published five English and three Japanese books of poetry as well as a monograph on T.S.Eliot.  Her recent publication is A Single Flower: 100 Bilingual Tanka 2003-2014.

1 comment:

  1. I love the way this poem settles me into a feeling of deep peace and contentment, but also arouses my curiosity. The first two lines indicate that the protagonist has never been a person who expects showy demonstrations of appreciation, praise or love. And the words "all my life" prove that her wish is no passing preference, but a desire so fundamental as to be life-long. But why would someone hold such a wish so strongly? I admire and delight in this tanka because it evokes in me several answers to that question.

    A bouquet, especially a grand one, can certainly be stunning. However, its mixture of shapes, colours, sizes and fragrances lacks the quiet beauty, simplicity and understatement of a single flower. Our senses may be overwhelmed by a big bouquet, but are likely to be soothed and pacified by apprehending just one bloom. So Kiyoko's tanka speaks to me of a yearning for the beauty of simplicity; a sentiment that I'm sure most tanka lovers appreciate.

    To be greeted with a single flower, also, in my mind, represents being greeted in a more intimate or personal way. It conveys a longing to be deeply known, understood and accepted by another. The poem does not express a wish to be greeted by a particular person, just "someone"; the longing to connect deeply with at least one person in this world.

    The reference to a single flower also reminds me of the famous story about the Buddha, in which a seeker approached him, offered a flower, bowed, and asked for his teachings. The Buddha sat quietly, then slowly, in a wordless message to the assembled crowd, held up the flower. This gesture referred to the unity of all things; a truth that is beyond words and can only be known through one's inner experience.

    I also admire the structure of this tanka, because it helped me to experience its essence. I love the way the third line stands strongly. It not only emphasises the wish, but ensures that by the end of the poem, the hustle and bustle of bouquets is far behind, and I am left holding a single flower.

    So for me, this exquisite tanka by Kiyoko Ogawa speaks of a longing for simplicity and deep connection with others. Such a universal theme, so beautifully rendered, will surely find resonance in the hearts of many readers.

    -- An appraisal by Barbara Curnow, which can be accessed at

    "...The reference to a single flower also reminds me of the famous story about the Buddha, in which a seeker approached him, offered a flower, bowed, and asked for his teachings...

    The passage above reminds me of one of Buddha's teachings:

    If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change.