STLT#177, Sakura

I had the opportunity to sing this once, as a solo, to commemorate Hiroshima Day. While set on a pentatonic scale, it is in what musicologists call Phrygian Dominant Minor Mode – which is another term for “very unfamiliar but striking intervals that are at once difficult and haunting.” It was not easy for me to learn, but I have never forgotten it.

The song is, at its heart, a simple and very popular Japanese folk song from the Edo period (17th century). It’s so popular that it’s used by the Japanese at international events, and it’s well known in Japan that it’s used in some electronic crosswalks as ‘guidance music.’

And the original translation is simply a celebration of spring. YAY SPRING!

 Sakura, sakura,
yayoi no sorawa.
Miwatasu kagiri.
Kasumika kumo ka.
Nioi zo izuru.
Izaya, izaya,
mini yukan.

You see that sentiment in the English text by Edwin Markham:

Cherry blooms, cherry blooms,
cherry blooms are ev’rywhere,
like a cloud from out the sky!
Mists of blossoms fill the air,
cherries, cherries blossoming!
Come and see, come and see;
let all now see and sing.

Cherry blooms, cherry blooms,
all the world their beauty sees!
Yoshino is cherry land;
tatsuta for maple trees;
karasaki for the pine.
Let us go, let us go —
where pine trees greenly shine.

Yay spring!

And then sometime after World War II, to mark the anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, William Wolff wrote these alternative lyrics:

Cherry blooms, cherry blooms,
pink profusion everywhere,
like a mist of gossamer rain
cherry blossoms fill the air,
covering Hiroshima’s plain.
Come and see, spring is here,
it will not long remain.

Cherry blooms, cherry blooms,
when we die as we surely must,
why not under yonder tree?
And when we return to dust,
falling flowers our wreaths will be.
Come and see, come and see,
the fine Hiroshima tree.


So… at Easter, I am preaching a sermon called Earth Teach Us Resurrection – with a nod to Linda Hoddy, whose sermon of the same name a decade ago has remained with me. The central metaphor of both sermons is the surprising and almost defiant return of life on Mt. St. Helens, which leads to a consideration of the Easter story with its surprising and almost defiant return of Jesus, and what such surprising and almost defiant returns to life can mean for us today.

And when I read these Hiroshima lyrics, I am struck by the same spirit. The unthinkable set out to destroy life, yet we witness the surprising and almost defiant return to life of the Japanese people – much like their cherry blooms… and it is that life that honors the dead in wreaths and falling flowers.

Yes, I might have written part of my sermon just now – at least some bones of it. In this time of rebirth and regrowth, we need every example we can find of surprising and almost defiant returns to life, so we can learn and accomplish our own.

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