Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.
by Roger Keyes
I have come across a shortened version of this poem many times, not knowing this longer one existed. To do any poem justice, I think it needs full and undivided attention, and preferably be spoken rather than read. Speaking this poem quietly to myself, its full length fits its pace: the invitation to slow down, be present and notice what I notice.
And it invites me to ponder… what would it be like to let go, even for a few moments, of believing in the importance of everything I rush to get done, and instead relax into it mattering that I notice? What would it be like, to not be afraid, and to let life take me by the hand?
Curious about Hokusai’s wisdom, a little google search revealed that the poem refers to the prolific Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Roger Keyes is an art historian and curator of Japanese art as well as a poet, and he ‘translated’ what he read in Hokusai’s paintings into this poem.
Noticing into paintings, paintings into words, words into… noticing.
What do you notice, reading these words?
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Image: Katsushika Hokusai – Fuji from Gotenyama at Shinagawa on the Tōkaidō, 1830-1834