Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The Blossoms Did Not Betray Me. I Betrayed The Blossoms."

A few months ago, I posted a series of poems in which the poets conveyed their experiences of mistaken identity when it comes to "Frost, Blossoms, Snow, and Moonlight."  I neglected to include the following poem by Walter de la Mare in the series.  It now seems appropriate.

               The Cherry Trees

Under pure skies of April blue I stood,
Where, in wild beauty, cherries were in blow;
And, as sweet fancy willed, see there I could
Boughs thick with blossom, or inch-deep in snow.

Walter de la Mare, Memory and Other Poems (1938).

                     John Aldridge (1905-1983), "Roofing a New House"

Today was a windy and rainy day, and I fear for the longevity of this year's blossoms.  The usual bitter-sweet cherry blossom-spring and leafy-autumn wistfulness arises.  Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672) offers an interesting perspective on this feeling.

          Fallen Blossoms on the Eastern Hills

Cherry blossoms filling the ground, sunset filling my eyes:
blossoms vanished, spring old, I feel the passing years.
When blossoms were at their finest I neglected to call.
The blossoms did not betray me.  I betrayed the blossoms.

Ishikawa Jozan (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson (editor/translator), Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jozan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).

                                   John Aldridge, "Landscape" (c. 1940s)


Acornmoon said...

Such a sad post today, the way I feel too. Must be the weather!

Stephen Pentz said...

acornmoon: thank you for visiting again, and for your thoughts. But: rather than sad, how about wistful?

John Trotman said...

Dear Mr Pentz
Hello from Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. Thank you for another excellent post. I have been a keen follower of yours for over a year now and have also had great fun looking through the archived posts and recommending your excellent site to friends. I entirely agree with those who have made special mention of the paintings, as well as the poems. Thank you so much for your hard work and fine taste.
Your post on the quickly passing blossoms and Japanese literature prompted me to chase up the subject. I thought that the following from Stanford 's online Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Japanese aesthetics section) might be of interest (there is much there, so just a few lines for now)
: '2. Mono no aware: the Pathos of Things
The meaning of the phrase mono no aware is complex and has changed over time, but it basically refers to a “pathos” (aware) of “things” (mono), deriving from their transience. In the classic anthology of Japanese poetry from the eighth century, the Manyōshū, the feeling of aware is typically triggered by the plaintive calls of birds or other animals. It also plays a major role in the world's first novel, Murasaki Shikibu's Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), from the early eleventh century. The somewhat later Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike Clan) begins with these famous lines, which clearly show impermanence as the basis for the feeling of mono no aware:

The sound of the Gion shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sōla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind. (McCullough 1988)
And here is Kenkō on the link between impermanence and beauty: “If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty” (Keene, 7). The acceptance and celebration of impermanence goes beyond all morbidity, and enables full enjoyment of life:

The most frequently cited example of mono no aware in contemporary Japan is the traditional love of cherry blossoms, as manifested by the huge crowds of people that go out every year to view (and picnic under) the cherry trees. The blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees are intrinsically no more beautiful than those of, say, the pear or the apple tree: they are more highly valued because of their transience, since they usually begin to fall within a week of their first appearing. It is precisely the evanescence of their beauty that evokes the wistful feeling of mono no aware in the viewer.'
Thank you again.
John Trotman

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Trotman: First, thank you very much for your kind words about the blog, and for continuing to return here for such a long time. I am gratified that you continue to find things here that interest you, and I greatly appreciate your taking the time to visit.

Second, thank you very much for the discussion of "mono no aware." I particularly like the quotes from the Heike Monogatari and Kenko. I regret that I have never gotten around to reading the Monogatari or Kenko's writings. It is something that I need to do.

I lived in Japan for a year, and I was able to experience the cherry-blossom viewing outings first-hand. Although it was a good experience, I have to say that the crowds (I was in Tokyo) took away some of the romanticism I had harbored about the event! That being said, there are many quiet places in Tokyo where the blossoms can be seen peacefully.

As you know, the concept of "wabi-sabi" goes hand-in-hand with "mono no aware" as well.

And we should not forget what the attorney/insurance company executive for Hartford Accident & Indemnity Company in Connecticut wrote: "Death is the mother of beauty."

Again, thank you very much.