Moonlight white on white pear blossoms (shijo)
Yi Cho’nyon (1269-1343)
Moonlight white on white pear blossoms,
the milky way in the third watch:
how could the cuckoo know that spring suffuses the branch?
Is like a sickness; I cannot sleep tonight.
The third watch is the hour immediately before and after midnight, an hour associated with solitude, romance and the imagination. Moonlight floods across the flowers, creating a landscape that is white, cold, lonely, pristine, and sere, with overtones of epiphany and enlightenment. The light allows us to see below the surface, to see the spiritual essence of the pear blossoms and the light that illuminates them. The poem refers to sweetheart, country or king. Alternatively, it is about how we perceive beauty, how we acquire knowledge, how we embrace love. At its most basic, it is about light and how light illuminates our lives. Moonlight, pear blossoms, spring, sickness and love fuse into a unified symbol: intimate, instinctive. We call it Son, Zen. This is the heart of the poetry experience. Every word, every line sings of transcendence. Light is everywhere; imagination is integral to the way we feel. 자규 is traditionally translated as cuckoo, but the cuckoo does not sing at night, so scops-owl might be more accurate.
은한이 삼경인 제
일지춘심을 자귀야 알랴마는
병인 양 하여 잠 못 들어 하노라