The Buddha at Kamakura

I started reading Kim (by Rudyard Kipling) yesterday and something that I immediately loved about it is that every chapter begins with a small poem. I don’t know if these poems are related to the chapter itself, but they are really nice. The first chapter has a few lines from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Buddha at Kamakura’.

Now, I am not a religious guy, but I must admit that religion has given rise to some of the best art and literature around. This poem is an example of that. As soon as I read the four lines at the beginning of the first chapter, I decided that I am going to find the poem and read the whole thing. And what a lovely piece it was! The simplicity of the verse and its unassuming nature and the way in which the statue is described is just amazing! Inspires one to visit Kamakura and see it and verse inspires me to write. Read the poem to see what I mean:

Buddha at Kamakura (1892)

‘And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura.’

O ye who tread the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,
Be gentle when ‘the heathen’ pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!

To Him the Way, the Law, apart,
Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
Ananda’s Lord, the Bodhisat,
The Buddha of Kamakura.

For though He neither burns nor sees,
Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
Ye have not sinned with such as these,
His children at Kamakura,

Yet spare us still the Western joke
When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
The little sins of little folk
That worship at Kamakura—

The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
That flit beneath the Master’s eyes.
He is beyond the Mysteries
But loves them at Kamakura.

And whoso will, from Pride released,
Contemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the Soul of all the East
About him at Kamakura.

Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
While yet in lives the Master stirred,
The warm wind brings Kamakura.

Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
A-flower ’neath her golden htee
The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
From Burma to Kamakura,

And down the loaded air there comes
The thunder of Thibetan drums,
And droned—‘Om mane padme hum’s’
A world’s-width from Kamakura.

Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
Buddh-Gaya’s ruins pit the hill,
And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
To Buddha and Kamakura.

A tourist-show, a legend told,
A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
The meaning of Kamakura?

But when the morning prayer is prayed,
Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
Is God in human image made
No nearer than Kamakura?


Kipling traveled in Japan in 1889 and 1892, and his writing of the country is collected in Kipling’s Japan, edited and with copious notes by Hugh Cortazzi and George Webb (London: Athlone, 1988). ‘Buddha at Kamakura’ first appeared appended to a prose ‘Letter’ published in the New York Sun and the Lahore Civil & Military News in July 1892. Three of its verses are used as chapter headings in Kim (1901), and it appears in its entirety in The Five Nations (1903). For the full text of the ‘Letter’ to which the poem was originally appended and knowledgeable notes about the poem itself, see Cortazzi and Webb, pp. 195-209.

I found the poem on this site – http://themargins.net/anth/19thc/kipling.html

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