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on June 4, 2001
THE CRANE'S BILL : Zen Poems of China and Japan. Translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto with the assistance of Taigan Takayama, Zen Master. 143 pp. New York : Grove Press, 1973 and Reprinted.
Zen poetry is one of the glories of Zen, and yet few in the West seem to care or even know about it. Though undoubtedly sincere in their efforts to understand Zen, most readers seem drawn to prose treatises or explications or analyses of one sort or another, while overlooking the fact that, as Taigan Takayama expresses it : "Zen detests conceptualization" (page xi). Tenzan Yasuda has expressed the same idea this way : "What expresses cosmic truth in the most direct and concise way - that is the heart of Zen art" (page xxxvii).
The poetry of Zen ranges all the way from the tiny seventeen-syllable haiku of a stupendous poet such as Santoka, which have been beautifully translated by John Stevens (in 'Mountain Tasting : Zen Haiku by Santoka Taneda'), through to the Zen verse treatise, of which the finest example is the Third Patriarch Seng-ts'an's 'Hsin-hsin-ming.' This poem brilliantly captures the essence of Zen in its thirty-one verses, and is a text that deserves to be far better known. Although the present book is devoted to shorter poems, an easily accessible translation of the 'Hsin-hsin-ming' will be found in D. T. Suzuki's 'Manual of Zen Buddhism' ('On Believing in Mind,' pages 76-82).
'Crane's Bill' is a collaborative effort which falls into three parts. First we are given, in a Foreword, Preface, and Introduction, 42 pages of interesting and informative material in which a very persuasive case is made for the fact that we should be reading these poems. Then follow 151 poems on enlightenment, death, and general subjects, drawn from a wide range of Chinese and Japanese writers. The book is rounded out with 48 pages of notes on the poems, though it unfortunately lacks both an index and a conversion table of the Japanized Chinese names
The translations, as might have been expected from the present team, read very well. Here is Poem 1, with my slash marks to indicate line breaks:
"The mountain slopes crawl with lumberjacks, / Axing everything in sight - / Yet crimson flowers / Burn along the stream" (page 5).
Here to provide a comment on Poem 1 is Poem 14:
"Iron will's demanded of / the student of the Way - / It's always on the mind. / Forget all - good, bad. / Suddenly it's yours" (page 10).
Compare this with first verse of the Hsin-hsin-ming, the original Chinese of which may be read as follows:
"To realize the Way is not difficult / If you'd only stop choosing; / Just let go of all of your hate, and love, / And everything will be brilliantly clear."
Do we really need to know more? If you don't believe me, here is Poem 97 from the great Japanese Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253):
"Four and fifty years / I've hung the sky with stars. / Now I leap through - / What shattering!" (page 63).
'Crane's Bill' is an extremely interesting and highly successful collaborative effort which no-one who is seriously interested in Zen can afford to overlook. Because it really is all in the poems!
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Even though I enjoy reading (and writing) all kinds of poetry my favorite poetic form has always been the concise and short Asian poetry of China and Japan. In fact, Japanese Haiku is my favorite poetic form. I have read and wrote reviews on numerous volumes of Asian poetry over the years. This wonderful 143 page soft cover (Zen Poems of China and Japan – The Crane’s Bill translated and compiled by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto) book was published in 1973 but the poems are timeless.

This poetry collection is an excellent introduction to Chinese and Japanese Zen poetry. The forward, (by Taigan Takayama) introduction (by Takashi Ikemoto) and preface (by Lucien Stryk) provides essential information on the relationship between Zen and poetry. The first section focuses on poetry from China on Enlightenment, death and general poems. The second section is about Japanese poems of enlightenment, death and general poems. Do not pass over the notes section because I found this section very helpful in understanding many of the Chinese and Japanese poems.

If you love Asian Zen poetry you will love this wonderful collection of poetry.

Rating: 5 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: Haiku Moments: How to read, write and enjoy haiku)
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on December 13, 2014
A most awesome book on the Zen Poetry of China and Japan. Gives good history and background to what this poetry is, why it is and then gives samples of the masters. This is NOT about haiku, it is about all Zen poetry and especially the Chinese 4 line, but it sure teaches one about the heart and essence of Zen thinking and phraseology in poetry so that it will absolutely improve your haiku. You may also find you like writing the Chinese 4 line. An excellent book, one I would not pass up if you are serious about Zen philosophy and Zen poetry.
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on December 9, 2011
I owned a copy of this book for years, and I read at it a few times. However, I came back to read it after rounding out my Zen adventures with two and a half years of living and teaching in South Korea. During that time, I read more and experienced more Chan, Seon, Zen, or Thien Buddhism, and I was ready to once again give a read to one of the first books I had ever read about Zen poems. I could not find my copy; it got lost during the hiatus of learning and experiencing more.

So, I bought this book again, and this time I read it with a much fuller appreciation. First, I read the introductions and the poems straight through. When I got to the notes at the back, I read them each with a re-read of the poem annotated. Now that I am finished reading this book again, I can attest that it is one of the best books written about Zen poems. If I had to give it any critique for improvement, I would like a greater emphasis on the Chinese influences, and I would like at least a small mention of Korea's role in the rise of Zen, or Chan-Seon-Zen-Thien Buddhism.

Overall, I recommend it without reservation.
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on February 22, 2015
I love this book. I owned it many years ago, couldn't find it and ordered this new copy. Then found the old copy! Doesn't change the fact that it's full of wonderful, wise short poems. Some of them have stayed in my head for years.
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on August 11, 2008
A useful collection of Zen Poems well translated as always by Lucien Stryk. Manily material from earlier periods of history.
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on December 1, 1999
This is in my top ten favorites to read and re-read. I was lucky to have actually find this book laying around, now I feel it has actually found me.
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