Arthur Davison Ficke
Kôbô Daishi’s Fire (1907)
When Kôbô Daishi lit that fire
flame is burning still
hill by hill,
Lifts from the waves to one gray spire,
He saw upon the sunset sky
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
With lips that seemed to stir a prayer.
Then the Great Teacher turning spake:—
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
life with days
That lead through
simple natural ways
Where deep unrestfulness is still.
“The dragon gives the vaunting boast,
The longing for
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
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.
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 Ficke’s work in print see At