Iroha Song

The Iroha is a Japanese poem traditionally attributed to the founder of the Shingon Esoteric sect of Buddhism in Japan, Kukai (774–835), although the first record of its existence dates from 1079. Containing each character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once, the Iroha allies the talismanic quality of a perfect pangram and an isogram to a refined example of Japanese poetry. It may be recalled that according to the ancient and worldwide science of letters, the elements of a writing system correspond to the elements of the universe. In this sense, pangrams like the Iroha are a sort of “periodic table” of elements, but with the interiorizing and transcendent beauty of traditional cosmologies.

It has also been noted that the last syllables of the verses spell the hidden sentence: “die without wrong-doing.”

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Iro wa nioedo
Chirinuru o
Wa ga yo dare zo
Tsune naramu
Ui no okuyama
Kyo koete
Asaki yume miji
Ei mo sezu.

As flowers are brilliant but inevitably fall,
who could remain constant in our world?
Today let us transcend the high mountain of transience,
and there will be no more shallow dreaming, no more drunkenness.

To see the original text, alternative translations and more information, click here.

With many thanks to Japanese Classical Literature Podcast for the original reading.

This library item is part of our Mystical Poetry Collection.