Arthur Davison Ficke

Kôbô Daishi’s Fire (1907)

When Kôbô Daishi lit that fire
Whose sacred flame is burning still
Where Miyajima, hill by hill,
Lifts from the waves to one gray spire,

He saw upon the sunset sky
A cloud-shaped dragon gray and gold
With scales along each monstrous fold
And eyes that glimmered balefully.

And as he looked, the moving air
Changed it and moulded it in its place
A downcast pious trader’s face
With lips that seemed to stir a prayer.

Then the Great Teacher turning spake:—
“Full many times this shape shall come,
Stealthy or rampant, loud or dumb,
And many forms its soul shall take.

“Though as a trader mild it move,
Or as a power to make you free,
Or bring you strength of land and sea,
Ye shall not give it aught of love.

“Let no gate open to its wiles.
It feeds upon all sweet content;
Nor will it stay till it has rent
The ancient peace that makes your isles

“A place where each man can fulfill
His individual life with days
That lead through simple natural ways
Where deep unrestfulness is still.

“The dragon gives the vaunting boast,
The longing for un-precious things.
When you have grasped what gifts he brings,
Then shall you know what you have lost.”

* * * * * * * *

Still burns, but low, the sacred fire.
Its shrine, though ruined, rises still
Where Miyajima, hill by hill,
Lifts from the waves to one gray spire.

But the Great Teacher might not wait
Whose words so warning were of yore.
The sunset burns along the shore.
The dragon hovers at the gate.




‘Kôbô Daishi’s Fire’ (BG1f) appeared in The Happy Princess and Other Poems (BG1).

For an overview of Ficke’s relation with Japan see Arthur Davison Ficke and Japan in the Bibliography, and for a note about Fickes work in print see At Ise.





















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