Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Karuizawa – Tokyo

On the train, contemplating the forest path in Hakushu’s poem. The characters oku “inner part, interior” and michi “road,” recall Basho, the title of his last travel diary, Oku-no hosomichi. It is usually translated into something like “narrow road of the interior.” One could also say “the backwoods.”

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, writes Dante. In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.

Cold and windy, or dark and pathless, what is this forest in which we find ourselves? Or rather, where we lose ourselves, in order to find out way out of it? Going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down on it, where do we hope to end up?

A destination needs desire. To reach it requires will. The wanderer has will without desire, to move without getting anywhere, but to keep moving.  One is always closer by not keeping still, says Thom Gunn. The wanderer tells himself that his aimless errancy is better than the inverse, desire without will. That would be simply to yearn, boundlessly longing for what can never be reached. Perhaps he feels that to keep moving is more heroic, less worthy of pity. It is not.

Rather it is like the shark who must keep moving, moving to breathe, moving to stay afloat, or else sink, into the dark blue depths, under the weight of endless tons of water, where even the light of the sun, if it could reach that far down, would be pale and cold.


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