Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyo

Saigyo (Author) William R. LaFleur (Author)


Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyo captures the power of Saigyo's poetry and this previously overlooked poet's keen insight into the social and political world of medieval Japan. It also offers a fascinating look into the world of Japanese Buddhism prior to the wholesale influence of Zen.

Product Details

Wisdom Publications
Publish Date
June 15, 2003
6.02 X 0.53 X 9.04 inches | 0.57 pounds
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About the Author

William R. LaFleur received his PhD from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Joseph Kitagawa and Mircea Eliade. Over the course of his career, LaFleur taught at Princeton University, UCLA, Sophia University, Tokyo, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the E. Dale Saunders Professor of Japanese Studies. In addition to his work on Buddhist cosmology and the "mind" of medieval Japan, he was a gifted translator and interpreter of poetry and published two volumes on the medieval monk-poet Saigyo. He was deeply interested in Zen, especially as a resource for contemporary thought. He wrote and edited several books and essays, introducing to Western readers the work of the thirteenth-century Zen master Dogen, the Kyoto-school figure Masao Abe, and the twentieth-century philosopher and cultural historian Watsuji Tetsuro. In 1989, he became the first non-Japanese to win the Watsuji Tetsuro Cultural Prize. In his later career, while continuing to study medieval Japanese religion and literature, he produced pioneering studies of Japanese bioethics, highlighting contrasts with Western approaches to such issues as abortion, organ transplants, and medical definitions of death. Altogether, he wrote or edited nine books. He passed away in 2010.


"Saigyo's poems are masterful mind-language challenges. Bill LaFleur's deeply understanding translations present us with the snake-like energy of the syntax, and the illuminated world that was called out by one man's lifetime of walking and meditation is again right here."----Gary Snyder
"A beautifully proportioned work of lucid scholarship and superb literary translation. This fruit of LaFleur's long and inspired labor not only honors the great Buddhist poet Saigyo, but the intelligence and heart of readers as well."--Mike O'Connor, translator of The Clouds Should Know Me By Now and Where the World Does Not Follow
"William LaFleur's account of Saigyo's life kept me spellbound, and his translations made me ache to hit the road with Saigyo, surely the most lucid & bittersweet poet of Buddhist Japan. On the surface these poems are bright with full moons, falling sakura blossoms, mossy peaks. You can see withered autumn fields & hear geese in the mist. But the depths of Saigyo's poetry? Think of a solemn temple bell sounding across the mountains at twilight. 'Although all things in this world undergo change, the way of poetry extends unaltered even to the last age.' A volume of poetry should be a trusted comrade, even to the last age. This superb collection will be."--Andrew Schelling, Naropa University, author of The Cane Groves of Narmada River: Erotic Poems from Old India
"This remarkable life and poetry of Saigyo is essential reading: essential to understanding Japanese literary tradition, and essential to understanding the role of Japan's most influential poet in the history of its Buddhism. Saigyo found beauty in the temporality of things and identified with ordinary villagers throughout his famous journeys, writing poems that remain as elegant, perceptive and moving today as they were a thousand years ago. William R. LaFleur presents a striking portrait of the man and his work. His scholarship and artistry are commendable. Awesome Nightfall is a classic."--Sam Hamill
"The twelfth-century Japanese Buddhist poet Saigyo is a revered figure in Japanese literature, and was a guiding figure, centuries later, for Basho. Until his mid-twenties Saigyo was a samurai; the remainder of his life was devoted to the relation between the secular world and Buddhist practice, between Buddhist ideals and poetry and the love of nature. Professor LaFleur has spent decades on his study of Saigyo and what is known of his world and his work. Awesome Nightfall is a welcome presentation of Saigyo's poetry and his life as they reflect each other."--W.S. Merwin