Sunday, October 21, 2012


Every autumn, I hope that October will be free of wind and rain so that the leaves will stay a little longer.  Every autumn, my hopes prove to be forlorn. But there are always compensations.

Yesterday, on my afternoon walk, I passed through a grove of Big-Leaf maples.  The grove is about 200 yards long, and the interlacing top boughs form a canopy overhead.  The compensation of which I speak was at my feet:  the path down which I walked was completely covered with a carpet of fallen leaves.

Granted, this is not unexpected in autumn.  But what set this carpet apart was its pattern of colors.  Fallen Big-Leaf maple leaves are usually yellow or brown, or a rusty combination of the two.  However, because it is still early autumn, hundreds of large green leaves had fallen in the wind as well.  The green and brown and yellow leaves created a lovely tapestry of colors upon the path that lay before me.  The path was a mosaic, a jigsaw puzzle, of yellow and green and brown.

                      Thomas Hennell, "The Avenue, Bucklebury" (c. 1941)

             Falling Leaves Mingle with the Rain

Frosted leaves, trailing the wind, fly, scatter in a tumble,
tumbling with the sudden shower, now this way, now that.
Parting from branches, leaf after leaf raps at my door and window,
joining with the sound of drops from the tall eaves of my study.

Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jozan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).

                Thomas Hennell, "The Guest House, Cerne Abbas" (c. 1940)

A lonely four-mat hut --
All day no one in sight.
Alone, sitting beneath the window,
Only the continual sound of falling leaves.

Ryokan (1758-1831) (translated by John Stevens), in John Stevens, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan (Weatherhill 1977).

                  Thomas Hennell, "The Beech Avenue, Lasham" (c. 1941)


WAS said...

How marvelous to see more Kanshi poetry - scanning it initially I really thought it was Chinese. You are correct about Burton Watson, he brings real poetic virtue into this surprisingly unaffected and unmuddied translation. The dynamism of the poem, so characteristic of English and uncharacteristic of Chinese or Japanese, lends credence however to the notion you shared that Watson's translations may not be the most literally pristine -- but who cares if it works so well in English?

The Ryokan is far more characteristic, an accretion of details that condense a multiplicity of meanings onto the leaves. Jozan is more specific, seeking a balance between the mystery the leaves represent and the fact that they are in some way communing with the speaker. A very "Chinese" sentiment, perhaps more so for being phrased by someone from Japan, with all that history...

bruce floyd said...

When you write of "the interlacing top boughs form a canopy overhead," you are describing a "pleach." The only use of the word I know of is in Emerson's poem "Days":

Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdom, stars, and sky that holds them all.

I, in my PLEACHED garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: thank you for those thoughts.

Watson's introduction to his translations of kanshi goes into great detail about the extent to which the Japanese poets immersed themselves in -- and held themselves to -- the strict technical requirements of Chinese poetry. This may account for why (even in English translation) they sound so much like what Chinese poets produced. But, as you say, there is still a unique element of Japanese sensibility in them as well.

As ever, thank you for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: thank you very much for "pleach" -- it is a new word for me. And thank you as well for the poem by Emerson. I haven't read much of Emerson's poetry, and I should look into it further.

Thank you for stopping by again.

Jessica said...

I very much enjoy reading your blog - thank you. To see the paintings by Thomas Hennell in this post was an especial delight. I wrote an article about Hennell for 'Country Life' magazine in the UK, earlier this year. The cold, misty weather here in England reminds me of a letter Hennell wrote to his Aunt in 1944, during a fortnight's leave at his home,Orchard Cottage, in Kent: "The cottage has been beautifully looked after while I was away, and it is a great treat to sit by the log fire with one's books and drawings - despite the thick fog outside". It is a great treat to read this blog post too.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jessica: thank you very much for visiting, and for your kind words.

Your article on Hennell sounds interesting -- I will try to find a copy. Your quote from his letter is very nice. He was an interesting person, although his life was, unfortunately, somewhat tragic, wasn't it? I haven't read any of his books, but I have been meaning to.

Thank you again.

Jessica said...

Dear Mr Pentz,

Thank you for your interest in my article - I do not think it can be found online, so I have emailed a copy to you and hope you enjoy it.

I think it is true that Thomas Hennell's life was somewhat tragic - he struggled with unrequited love and serious mental illness, yet he overcame these, and despite his shyness he thrived as a war artist. I like the quote from fellow war artist Edward Ardizzone, who met Hennell in Normandy in 1944, and was impressed by 'his shy manner and moral courage'.

All good wishes,


Stephen Pentz said...

Jessica: thank you very much for sending me your article. I hadn't had time to send you an email in response by the time you posted your most recent comment.

Ah, to be in England! I would have loved to see the exhibition that you wrote about. Your article provides information about him that I wasn't aware of -- for instance, his ties with Ravilious and Bawden.

Again, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to forward the article to me.