Never find yourself yawning at life

When I first met the poems of Toyohiko Kagawa, I was 21 years old. Young and carefree!
My good friend, Margaret Meyer, and I were roommates as we worked at the church publishing house for the summer.
We were both writers and loved poetry. So that summer, we read poetry aloud and quietly. We bought books of poetry from the publishing house bookstore and also memorized favorite poems.
We memorized Emily Dickinson’s “From a Very Little Sphinx” and the nonsensical “The Walrus and The Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll.
“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said/‘To talk of many things/Of shoes and ships and sealing wax/Of cabbages and kings/And why the sea is boiling hot/And whether pigs have wings.’”
That carefree summer was the summer of poetry! That also was the summer I bought Kagawa’s “Songs from the Slums.”
Although I hadn’t looked at the book for years, the worn and torn condition of the dust jacket tells me how often I read it at the time! But at age 21, did I really understand the impact of these powerful poems?
“One month in the slums/And I am sad/So sad.
“Sweet Heaven sends/No miracle/To ease/This hell/The careless earth/Rings no/Alarum bell.”
Kagawa was born in 1888, the son of a geisha and an influential and wealthy man. His father was so devoted to his son that he adopted Toyohiko as his heir.
At a young age, Kagawa enrolled in a Bible class in order to learn English. Always a thoughtful boy, he soon espoused Christianity and dedicated his life to serving the poor.
He lived in the slums, in an area that policemen feared to visit and often went in groups. He lived, as the poor did, in a six-foot square shed with an open wall for a door.
He nursed the sick and held reading classes. He established schools, hospitals, and churches. And he worked to better the plight of laborers, children, the elderly, and all people.
Because of his activities, the authorities feared Kagawa and he often was imprisoned.
In fact, Kagawa was in prison at the time of the disastrous 1923 earthquake.
In the aftermath, the government was at a loss to deal with such devastation–homelessness, starvation, disease, and anarchy.
They knew only one organizer who would be able to cope. So they released Kagawa and asked him to be Chief of Social Welfare with a large salary.
Kagawa took the job but refused the salary, saying, “To work with the poor, I must be poor.”
He is the most highly-regarded Christian in Japan. After his death, Kagawa was awarded the second-highest honour of Japan–induction into the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
During his lifetime, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947 and 1948 (he authored 250 books), and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1955.
The encyclopedia describes Kagawa as a “Japanese Christian pacifist.”
This Ghandi of Japan, who loved the Earth and all its people, has inspiring wisdom for us.
“I want to be ever a child/I want to feel an eternal friendship/for the raindrops, the flowers/the insects, the snowflakes/I want to be keenly interested in everything. . . .
“May I never find myself yawning at life.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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