A Poem by Michael R. Burch

These are translations of haiku about dew as a metaphor for life's transience.



In their haiku the Oriental masters of the form frequently used dew as a metaphor for the transience of life. Some of these poets have used dew metaphorically in a jisei (a type of death poem sometimes called a “zen death poem”) … but then I discovered to my surprise that I had used dew in similar ways quite frequently in my own poetry …

This world?
Moonlit dew
flicked from a crane’s bill.
 Eihei Dogen Kigen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dewdrops beading blades of grass
have so little time to shine before dawn;
let the autumn wind not rush too quickly through the field!
 Eihei Dogen Kigen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This world of dew
is a dew-drop world indeed;
and yet, and yet ...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Both victor and vanquished are
dewdrops, flashes of lightning
briefly illuminating the void.
 Ouchi Yoshitaka (1507-1551), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

As autumn deepens,
a butterfly sips
chrysanthemum dew.
― Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I wish I could wash
this perishing earth
in its shimmering dew.
― Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like a lotus leaf’s evaporating dew,
I vanish.
― Senryu (-1827), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Let us arise and go,
following the path of the clear dew.
― Fojo (-1764), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Farewell! I pass
away as all things do:
dew drying on grass.
― Banzan (-1730), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch


How long

can a dewdrop last? 

�"Eihei Dogen Kigen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dewdrops beading grass-blades

die before dawn;

may an untimely wind not hasten their departure!

�"Eihei Dogen Kigen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Outside my window the plums, blossoming,

within their curled buds, contain the spring;

the moon is reflected in the cup-like whorls

of the lovely flowers I gather and twirl.

�"Eihei Dogen Kigen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My life appeared like dew

and disappears like dew.

All Naniwa was a series of dreams.

― Toyotomi Hideyoshi, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei death poem by Michael R. Burch 

Let this body

be dew

in a field of wildflowers.

― Tembo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

Like dew glistening

on a lotus leaf, 

so too I soon must vanish.

― Shinsui, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 


Dew-damp grass: 

the setting sun's tears

―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

The dew-damp grass

weeps silently

in the setting sun

―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

But sometimes, like a non-Freudian cigar, dew is just dew …

Dabbed with morning dew

and splashed with mud, 

the melon looks wonderfully cool.

―Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

I thought I felt a dewdrop


on my head

as I lay in bed! 

―Masaoka Shiki, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 


blesses my knuckle

with affectionate dew

― Michael R. Burch 

Come As You Are

by Rabindranath Tagore

loose translation/interpretation/modernization by Michael R. Burch 

Come as you are, forget appearances! 

Is your hair untamable, your part uneven, your bodice unfastened? Never mind.

Come as you are, forget appearances! 

Skip with quicksilver steps across the grass.

If your feet glisten with dew, if your anklets slip, if your beaded necklace slides off? Never mind.

Skip with quicksilver steps across the grass.


Do you see the clouds embracing the sky? 

Flocks of cranes erupt from the riverbank, fitful gusts ruffle the fields, anxious cattle tremble in their stalls.

Do you see the clouds embracing the sky? 

You loiter in vain over your toilet lamp; it flickers and dies in the wind.

Who will care that your eyelids have not been painted with lamp-black, when your pupils are darker than thunderstorms? 

You loiter in vain over your toilet lamp; it flickers and dies in the wind.

Come as you are, forget appearances! 

If the wreath lies unwoven, who cares? If the bracelet is unfastened, let it fall. The sky grows dark; it is late.

Come as you are, forget appearances! 

I Know The Truth

by Marina Tsvetaeva

loose translation by Michael R. Burch 

I know the truth―abandon lesser truths! 

There's no need for anyone living to struggle! 

See? Evening falls, night quickly descends! 

So why the useless disputes―generals, poets, lovers? 

The wind is calming now; the earth is bathed in dew; 

the stars' infernos will soon freeze in the heavens.

And soon we'll sleep together, under the earth, 

we who never gave each other a moment's rest above it.

I Know The Truth (Alternate Ending)  

by Marina Tsvetaeva

loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

I know the truth―abandon lesser truths! 

There's no need for anyone living to struggle! 

See? Evening falls, night quickly descends! 

So why the useless disputes―generals, poets, lovers? 

The wind caresses the grasses; the earth gleams, damp with dew; 

the stars' infernos will soon freeze in the heavens.

And soon we'll lie together under the earth, 

we who were never united above it.

The Song of Amergin I

loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

I am the sea breeze

I am the ocean wave

I am the surf's thunder

I am the stag of the seven tines

I am the cliff hawk

I am the sunlit dew drop

I am the fairest flower

I am the rampaging boar

I am the swift-swimming salmon

I am the placid lake

I am the excellence of art

I am the vale echoing voices

I am the battle-hardened spearhead

I am the God who gave you fire

Who knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen

Who understands the cycles of the moon

Who knows where the sunset settles...


To a Daughter More Precious than Gems

by Otomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume (c.700-750) , an ancient Japanese poet

loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch 

Heaven's cold dew has fallen

and thus another season arrives.

Oh, my child living so far away, 

do you pine for me as I do for you? 

I have trusted my jewel to the gem-guard; 

now there's nothing to do, my pillow, 

but for the two of us to sleep together! 

I cherished you, my darling, 

as the Sea God guards his treasury's pearls.

But you are pledged to your husband

(such is the way of the world)  

and torn from me like a blossom.

I left you for faraway Koshi; 

since then your lovely eyebrows

curving like distant waves

ever linger in my eyes.

My heart is as unsteady as a rocking boat; 

besieged by such longing I weaken with age

and come close to breaking.

If I could have prophesied such longing, 

I would have stayed with you, 

gazing on you constantly

as into a shining mirror.

I gaze out over the fields of Tadaka

seeing the cranes that cry there incessantly: 

such is my longing for you.

Oh my child, 

who loved me so helplessly

like bird hovering over shallow river rapids! 

Dear child, my daughter, who stood

sadly pensive by the gate, 

even though I was leaving for a friendly estate, 

I think of you day and night

and my body has become thin, 

my sleeves tear-stained with weeping.

If I must long for you so wretchedly, 

how can I remain these many months

here at this dismal old farm? 

Because you ache for me so intently, 

your sad thoughts all confused

like the disheveled tangles of your morning hair, 

I see you, dear child, in my dreams.

Otomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume (c.700-750) was an important ancient Japanese poet. She had 79 poems in *Manyoshu* ('Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves') , the first major anthology of classical Japanese poetry, mostly waka. The compiler of the anthology was Otomo no Yakamochi (c.718-785) . Otomo no Sakanoue no Iratsume was his aunt, tutor and poetic mentor. In the first stanza, Lady Otomo has left her children in Nara, possibly to visit her brother. In the second stanza, it is believed that the jewel is Lady Otomo's daughter and that she has been trusted to the care of her husband. As for the closing stanza, according to the notes of the *Manyoshu*, it was popularly believed that a person would appear in the dreams of the one for whom he/she yearned.


These are original poems of mine that involve dew …

Marsh Song

by Michael R. Burch 

Here there is only the great sad song of the reeds

and the silent herons, wraithlike in the mist, 

and a few drab sunken stones, unblessed

by the sunlight these late sixteen thousand years, 

and the beaded dews that drench strange ferns, like tears

collected against an overwhelming sadness.

Here the marsh exposes its dejectedness, 

its gutted rotting belly, and its roots

rise out of the earth's distended heaviness, 

to claw hard at existence, till the scars

remind us that we all have wounds, and I

have learned again that living is despair

as the herons cleave the placid, dreamless air.


by Michael R. Burch 

She has become as the night―listening

for rumors of dawn―while the dew, glistening, 

reminds me of her, and the wind, whistling, 

lashes my cheeks with its soft chastening.

She has become as the lights―flickering

in the distance―till memories old and troubling

rise up again and demand remembering...

like peasants rebelling against a mad king.

The Insurrection of Sighs

by Michael R. Burch 

She was my Shiloh, my Gethsemane; 

she nestled my head to her breast

and breathed upon my insensate lips

the fierce benedictions of her ubiquitous sighs, 

the veiled allegations of her disconsolate tears...

Many years I abided the agile assaults of her flesh...

She loved me the most when I was most sorely pressed; 

she undressed with delight for her ministrations

when all I needed was a good night's rest...

She anointed my lips with soft dews from her decadent lips; 

the insurrection of sighs left me fallen, distressed, at her elegant heel.

I felt the hard iron, the cold steel, in her words and I knew: 

the terrible arrow showed through my conscripted flesh.

The sun in retreat left her victor and all was Night.

The last peal of surrender went sinking and dying―unheard.


by Michael R. Burch 

I want tears to form again

in the shriveled glands of these eyes

dried all these long years

by too much heated knowing.

I want tears to course down

these parched cheeks, 

to star these cracked lips

like an improbable dew

in the heart of a desert.

I want words to burble up

like happiness, like the thought of love, 

like the overwhelming, shimmering thought of you

to a nomad who

has only known drought.

Sappho's Lullaby

by Michael R. Burch

Hushed yet melodic, the hills and the valleys

sleep unaware of the nightingale's call

while the dew-laden lilies lie



this is their night, the first night of fall.

Son, tonight, a woman awaits you; 

she is more vibrant, more lovely than spring.

She'll meet you in moonlight, 

soft and warm, 

all alone...

then you'll know why the nightingale sings.

Just yesterday the stars were afire; 

then how desire flashed through my veins! 

But now I am older; 

night has come, 

I'm alone...

for you I will sing as the nightingale sings.


by Michael R. Burch 

You are too beautiful, 

too innocent, 

too inherently lovely

to merely reflect the sun's splendor...

too full of irresistible candor

to remain silent, 

too delicately fawnlike

for a world so violent...

Come, my beautiful Bambi

and I will protect you...

but of course you have already been lured away

by the dew-laden roses...


by Michael R. Burch 

Ivy winds around these sagging structures

from the flagstones

to the eave heights, 

and, clinging, holds intact

what cannot be saved of their loose entrails.

Through long, blustery nights of dripping condensation, 

cured in the humidors of innumerable forgotten summers, 

waxy, unguent, 

palely, indifferently fragrant, it climbs, 

pausing at last to see

the alien sparkle of dew

beading delicate sparrowgrass.

Coarse saw grass, thin skunk grass, clumped mildewed yellow gorse

grow all around, and here remorse, things past, 

watch ivy climb and bend, 

and, in the end, we ask

if grief is worth the gaps it leaps to mend.


by Michael R. Burch 

There was a moment

suspended in time like a swelling drop of dew about to fall, 

impendent, pregnant with possibility...

when we might have made...


anything we dreamed, 

almost anything at all, 

coalescing dreams into reality.

Oh, the love we might have fashioned

out of a fine mist and the nightly sparkle of the cosmos

and the rhythms of evening! 

But we were young, 

and what might have been is now a dark abyss of loss

and what is left is not worth saving.

But, oh, you were lovely, 

child of the wild moonlight, attendant tides and doting stars, 

and for a day, 

what little we partook

of all that lay before us seemed so much, 

and passion but a force

with which to play.


by Michael R. Burch 

Now twice she has left me

and twice I have listened

and taken her back, remembering days

when love lay upon us

and sparkled and glistened

with the brightness of dew through a gathering haze.

But twice she has left me

to start my life over, 

and twice I have gathered up embers, to learn: 

rekindle a fire

from ash, soot and cinder

and softly it sputters, refusing to burn.


by Michael R. Burch 

Love―less than eternal, not quite true―

is still the best emotion man can muster.

Through folds of peeling rind―rough, scarred, crude-skinned―

she shines, all limpid brightness, coolly pale.

Crude-skinned though she may seem, still, brilliant-hearted, 

in her uneven fissures, glistening, glows

that pale rose: like a flame, yet strangely brittle; 

dew-lustrous pearl streaks gaping mossback shell.

And yet, despite the raggedness of her luster, 

as she hints and shimmers, touching those who see, 

she is not without her uses or her meanings; 

in all her avid gleamings, Love bestows

the rare spark of her beauty to her bearer, 

till nothing flung to earth seems half so fair.

Salat Days

by Michael R. Burch

Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Paul Ray Burch, Sr.

I remember how my grandfather used to pick poke salat...

though first, usually, he'd stretch back in the front porch swing, 

dangling his long thin legs, watching the sweat bees drone, 

talking about poke salat―

how easy it was to find if you knew where to seek it...

standing in dew-damp clumps by the side of a road, shockingly green, 

straddling fence posts, overflowing small ditches, 

crowding out the less-hardy nettles.

'Nobody knows that it's there, lad, or that it's fit tuh eat

with some bacon drippin's or lard.'

'Don't eat the berries. You see―the berry's no good.

And you'd hav'ta wash the leaves a good long time.'

'I'd boil it twice, less'n I wus in a hurry.

Lawd, it's tough to eat, chile, if you boil it jest wonst.'

He seldom was hurried; I can see him still...

silently mowing his yard at eighty-eight, 

stooped, but with a tall man's angular gray grace.

Sometimes he'd pause to watch me running across the yard, 

trampling his beans, 

dislodging the shoots of his tomato plants.

He never grew flowers; I never laughed at his jokes about The Depression.

Years later I found the proper name―'pokeweed'―while perusing a dictionary.

Surprised, I asked why anyone would eat a weed.

I still can hear his laconic reply...

'Well, chile, s'm'times them times wus hard.'

Roses for a Lover, Idealized

by Michael R. Burch 

When you have become to me

as roses bloom, in memory, 

exquisite, each sharp thorn forgot, 

will I recall―yours made me bleed? 

When winter makes me think of you, 

whorls petrified in frozen dew, 

bright promises blithe spring forgot, 

will I recall your words―barbed, cruel? 


by Michael R. Burch 

'When you are old and grey and full of sleep...' ― W. B. Yeats

For all that we professed of love, we knew

this night would come, that we would bend alone

to tend wan fires' dimming bars―the moan

of wind cruel as the Trumpet, gelid dew

an eerie presence on encrusted logs

we hoard like jewels, embrittled so ourselves.

The books that line these close, familiar shelves

loom down like dreary chaperones. Wild dogs, 

too old for mates, cringe furtive in the park, 

as, toothless now, I frame this parchment kiss.

I do not know the words for easy bliss

and so my shriveled fingers clutch this stark, 

long-unenamored pen and will it: Move.

I loved you more than words, so let words prove.

The Peripheries of Love

by Michael R. Burch 

Through waning afternoons we glide

the watery peripheries of love.

A silence, a quietude falls.

Above us―the sagging pavilions of clouds.

Below us―rough pebbles slowly worn smooth

grate in the gentle turbulence

of yesterday's forgotten rains.

Later, the moon like a virgin

lifts her stricken white face

and the waters rise

toward some unfathomable shore.

We sway gently in the wake

of what stirs beneath us, 

yet leaves us unmoved...

curiously motionless, 

as though twilight might blur

the effects of proximity and distance, 

as though love might be near―

as near

as a single cupped tear of resilient dew

or a long-awaited face.

Describing You

by Michael R. Burch 

How can I describe you? 

The fragrance of morning rain

mingled with dew

reminds me of you; 

the warmth of sunlight

stealing through a windowpane

brings you back to me again.

This is an early poem of mine, written as a teenager.

My Forty-Ninth Year

by Michael R. Burch 

My forty-ninth year

and the dew remembers

how brightly it glistened

encrusting September: 

one frozen September

when hawks ruled the sky

and death fell on wings

with a shrill, keening cry.

My forty-ninth year, 

and still I recall

the weavings and windings

of childhood, of fall: 

of fall enigmatic, 

resplendent, yet sere, ...

though vibrant the herald

of death drawing near.

My forty-ninth year

and now often I've thought on

the course of a lifetime, 

the meaning of autumn: 

the cycle of autumn

with winter to come, 

of aging and death

and rebirth... on and on.


by Michael R. Burch

He desired an object to crave; 

she came, and she altared his affection.

He asked her for something to save: 

a memento for his collection.

But all that she had was her need; 

what she needed, he knew not to give.

They compromised on a thing gone to seed

to complete the half lives they would live.

One in two, they were less than complete.

Two plus one, in their huge fractious home

left them two, the new one in the street, 

and then he, by himself, one, alone.

He awoke past his prime to new dawn

with superfluous dew all around, 

in ten thousands bright beads on his lawn, 

and he knew that, at last, he had found

a number of things he had missed: 

things shining and bright, unencumbered

by their price, or their place on a list.

Then with joy and despair he remembered

and longed for the lips he had kissed

when his days were still evenly numbered.


by Michael R. Burch 

Here are the effects of a life

and they might tell us a tale

(if only we had time to listen)  

of how each imperiled tear would glisten, 

remembered as brightness in her eyes, 

and how each dawn's dramatic skies

could never match such pale azure.

Like dreams of her, these ghosts endure

and they tell us a tale of impatient glory...

till a line appears―a trace of worry?―

or the wayward track of a wandering smile

which even now can charm, beguile? 

We might find good cause to wonder

as we see her pause (to frown? , to ponder?) : 

what vexed her in her loveliness...

what weight, what crushing heaviness

turned her auburn hair a frazzled gray, 

and stole her youth before her day? 

We might ask ourselves: did Time devour

the passion with the ravaged flower? 

But here and there a smile will bloom

to light the leaden, shadowed gloom

that always seems to linger near...

And here we find a single tear: 

it shimmers like translucent dew

and tells us Anguish touched her too, 

and did not spare her for her hair's

burnt copper, or her eyes' soft hue.

Published in Tucumcari Literary Review (the first poem in its issue)  

Keywords/Tags: dew, dewdrop, haiku, jisei, zen, time, transience, mortality, impermanence, death, life, transcendent

© 2021 Michael R. Burch

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Added on August 28, 2021
Last Updated on October 25, 2021
Tags: haiku, Japanese, translation, Oriental, dew, transience, mortality, life, death, imagery, metaphor, nature