Zen Love Song
Zen Love Song begins with the beautifully poignant traditional Japanese lullaby “Edo Komoriuta”, which continues throughout the piece – interchanging between the accompanying shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and the voices – as a backdrop to two of 15th Century Zen Master Ikkyū’s highly romantic and sensual poems. The lullaby’s words (sung in Japanese) depict the loss of a little boy’s beloved nursemaid who has gone back to her home. This chimes with how Ikkyū feels at the loss of his “lovely miss” to another man.
Nennen korori yo okorori yo, Hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye,
Bōya wa yoi ko da nenne shi na. My good baby, sleep.
Crimson cheeks, light-coloured hair, full of
compassion and love.
Lost in a dream of love play,
I contemplate her beauty.
Her thousand eyes of great mercy look upon
all but see no one beyond redemption.
This goddess can even be a fisherman’s wife by
a river or sea, singing of salvation.
When we parted, it broke my heart
Her powdered cheeks were more beautiful
than spring flowers.
My lovely miss is now with another,
Singing the same love song but to a different tune.
Ikkyū Sōyun (1394 – 1491) trans. John Stevenson