Where is the banished immortal?


Kodojin celebrated his sixtieth birthday in 1925. Because this is considered a full lifetime, any additional years are thought of as a bonus, a new beginning after one’s family and work responsibilities have been fulfilled, and a special celebration called “kanreki” is held at this time. Accordingly, that autumn Kodojin decided to return to his birthplace. At the end of his trip to Shingu, Kodojin paid an extended visit to the nearby Nachi Waterfall, one of the glories of Japanese scenery.

A single vapor shakes Heaven and Earth, the flying flow comes directly down.
Gaze up – it’s hard to stand here long,
in broad daylight terrified of thunder!
My poem is done; in vain I shout it out:
The Banished immortal – where, oh where is he?

(Transl. Jonathan Chaves)

This poem was published in 1912. It appeared in Kodojin’s “Seisho’s Mountain Studio” (Seisho sanbo shu), a collection of Chinese poems (Kanshi) that established him as one of the leading masters of the day. “Nachi Waterfall” is the title of the poem.

Whereas the poem emphasizes the grandeur of Nachi, the final line may have had extra poignancy for a traditional poet in rapidly modernizing country. The “banished immortal” (Takusen) Kodojin is referring to in the poem is Li Po. Zhexian (Jap.: Takusen) was one of this well-known sobriquets. Li Bai (or Li Po) is famous for his poems on waterfalls and is therefore often depicted in paintings seated on a rocky terrace and gazing wistfully at a waterfall. (Stephen Addiss: Old Taoist. The Life, Art, and Poetry of Kodojin, 2000)

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