Robert Pinsky

Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky’s ‘Samurai Song’ shows readers a daunting path to achieve fearlessness, mental peace, and most importantly, freedom from all kinds of suffering.

Robert Pinsky’s inspirational poem ‘Samurai Song’ appears in the collection, Jersey Rain, published in 2000. The title of this piece interestingly alludes to the medieval military class of Japan, Samurai. Pinsky does not write a song praising their feats. Rather, this song is more about cherishing or shaping the mind like that of a Samurai, indifferent to pain or any other shortcomings of life.

Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky


‘Samurai Song’ by Robert Pinsky describes how to be a Samurai mentally and fight every odds of life.

The anaphoric lines of this piece present a number of scenarios and how the speaker reacts in those situations. Specifically, Pinsky tries to shape a persona that resembles a medieval Samurai warrior. He is filled with courage and calmness. There is no place for sadness in his life. Be it homelessness or hunger, he fights all the odds with his own philosophy of life. “Need” is his tactic, and “detachment” is his strategy. Above all, he knows how to stay free from negativity and melancholy.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-6

When I had no roof I made


When I had no thought I waited.

Robert Pinsky provides a number of life lessons to readers by presenting a persona. The subjectivity and authoritative voice of Pinsky idolize the mental disposition of a Samurai. He excludes medievalism and associates only the virtues that are appropriate for all ages.

For instance, in the first tercet, he glorifies the qualities of audacity (fearlessness) and self-control. His speaker directs readers’ attention to the fact that his mind will never yield to temporary shortcomings such as homelessness or hunger. He is prepared mentally to overcome all the physical pain.

The second stanza begins in a rhythm. Pinsky repeats the phrase “When I had no” and adds specific ideas after that. He tries to show the difference between a literal problem (such as blindness or deafness) and its philosophical solution.

For instance, when one is blind, they develop the capacity of listening. In the case of deafness, one is free to roam in thoughts or be creative in thinking. Likewise, if someone’s mind is at a standstill, they should learn patience.

Lines 7-12

When I had no father I made


Enemy I opposed my body.

The speaker of ‘Samurai Song’ does not ever feel lonely. On top of that, he never repents the things he did not have. According to him, when his father was not there, he made “Care” his father. When he had no mother, he embraced “order” in life heartily. So, there is always a door open for an individual who is ready to move on.

The fact that often troubles a person is lonely or friendless. In the speaker’s case, he does not lament for not having friends. Rather, he cherishes the “Quiet” for not having someone around.

When he does not have an enemy, he likes to oppose his own “body”. Here, “body” is a symbol of a comfort zone. Pinsky’s speaker challenges his body in order to train his mind always to be active and avoid the urges like staying at one place.

Lines 13-21

When I had no temple I made


No lover I courted my sleep.

In the last tercets of ‘Samurai Song,’ Pinsky taps on the ideas of religion, spirituality, fate, death, and love. The first few lines of this section are specifically about religion and spirituality. Pinsky’s speaker draws our attention to the fact that religious institutions have a minor role in one’s spiritual state.

He chose his voice when he had no temple to worship. The “voice”, one of the greatest gifts of life, should be worshiped. Besides, when he had no priest to chant holy lessons, he had his own tongue to utter the message of God. In this way, he is a religious institution in himself, and he does not need any other place to seek devotion.

Furthermore, when he has no means to carry on, he counts on his “fortune”. If he fails to grope for any solution, “death” becomes his sole companion. It shows the undaunting will of the speaker.

The final lines are the most memorable ones of the whole poem. Pinsky’s speaker says, “Need is my tactic, detachment/ Is my strategy.” These lines show the two greatest qualities one can possess, detachment and selflessness. The speaker only needs the things important for living. Hence, he is detached from all the materialistic pleasures available in the world. Finally, he says when he has no lover, the courts sleep as his soulmate.


Pinsky’s ‘Samurai Song’ is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. The poetic voice resembles a Samurai, undaunted by all the shortcomings of life. It seems Pinsky is portraying a warrior directly from medieval times. Besides, the text consists of a total of 7 tercets or stanzas having three lines. Each section presents a complete idea or set of ideas. Though there is no regular rhyme scheme, the use of repetition creates a sort of engaging rhyming in the lines.

Literary Devices

‘Samurai Song’ showcases the following literary devices.

  • Anaphora: This device is mainly used in the second stanza. However, Pinksy uses the variation of this device in each stanza.
  • Epigram: The overall poem is an epigram. It is filled with memorable life lessons that glorify the qualities of detachment, audacity, mindfulness, etc.
  • Enjambment: It occurs in the very first stanza. The first two lines are enjambed in order to make readers go through the lines quickly.
  • Personification: In the third tercet, “Care” and “order” are personified as father and mother.


What is the poem ‘Samurai Song’ about?

Robert Pinsky’s ‘Samurai Song’ is about a speaker who remains calm while facing difficulties and takes action accordingly. His unyielding nature aptly resembles the mental disposition of a Japanese Samurai.

When was ‘Samurai Song’ published?

This poem was published in 2000 in Robert Pinsky’s one of the finest collections, Jersey Rain.

What type of poem is ‘Samurai Song’?

This epigrammatic poem is written in free-verse. It means there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter in the text. Besides, it is written from the point of view of a first-person speaker. Hence, it is also an example of a lyric poem.

What is the theme of ‘Samurai Song’?

This piece taps on a number of themes that include fortitude, mindfulness, calmness, life, and fearlessness. The main idea of the poem revolves around the courage and calmness needed in order to conquer the shortcomings of life.

Similar Poems

The following list contains a number of poems that similarly evoke the themes present in Robert Pinsky’s ‘Samurai Song’.

You can also explore these exceptional poems about self-love.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap