I hope you were with us for the previous episode of the podcast. I had the opportunity of reading haiku from one of the Masters, Shiki and from so many talented contemporary haijin who joined me in exploring the topic of Pain. It was a joy to put it all together. The haiku came from most corners of the world and varied in emotional content from the serious to humourous. Thanks to everyone who took part.
While I was putting it together I was struck that so many of us have a desire to take photographs. Robert Horrobin got in touch and suggested, quite rightly, that our photography is the act of deliberate observation which unites the two forms of creativity. After all, isn’t that what haiku is about?
It also reminded me that I must put haiga on my list of topics to research.
In this episode I’m continuing to examine the subject of Japanese aesthetics by trying to understand Wabi, and we will visit with an old friend that we haven’t heard from for quite a while, Devin Harrison from Vancouver in Canada.
Now, As I said in episode 47 which looked at Sabi. As a westerner I may not immediately comprehend the full meaning of Wabi so I will come back to the subject in later podcasts.
I was interested to read that Wabi is thought of as the aesthetic of the people (much as haiku is the poetry of the common person). This idea originated in the 16th century when warlords ruled Japan and were conspicuous in their consumption, whilst the everyday person had to be satisfied with what they had. Hence wabi.
I came across a number of definitions of Wabi with regard to haiku. Let’s start with one from Alan Watts:
Alan Watts advocates that Wabi as a more difficult idea to comprehend that Sabi. He describes it as the amazing eternal reliability of nature. I think I understand what he meant. I was sitting on a terrace in Spain, it was warm but the grey skies and the rain were getting me down. Quite suddenly the sun shone through a chink in the grey clouds and began to create an expanding shimmer of light on the grey sea. I felt the joy then in the cycle of rain and sun, which is part and parcel of life on earth. This flip, the change in mood from a feeling of sadness to one of consolation in nature, is apparently Wabi. (1)
Donna A. Ryan ◊ United States (2) :
gentle rain. . .
the leaf mould’s sweet scent
rising with the mist
At this stage in my study of haiku, my simple mind prefers to think of Wabi as “An austere sense of beauty.” (3) or a “quiet contentment with simple things” (4)
This definition from Daisetz T. Suzuki, that ”Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats” “and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall.” touched me, because it is something my mother has been trying to teach me for as long as I can remember.(5)
Kenkō in his Essays in Idleness reminds us that “Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.” (6)
Burnell Lippy (7)
the gravel layer
of a caved-in bank
and this from
Elizabeth St Jacques ◊ Canada (2)
the neglected yard
One last thought, is Wabi only applicable to nature? Jane Reichhold suggests not, she maintains that Wabi does not have to be about nature, that is can also be expressed or understood with manmade examples. She writes that “Frayed and faded Levis have the wabi that bleached designer jeans can never achieve.” (8)
Burnell Lippy (7)
I was having a lot of trouble writing with a sense of wabi. I often got the phrase part but no fragment was forthcoming. Eventually I cam up with this:
the rose bush
sheds its final petals
and then, I began to play with the idea to see if I could create a Sabi version and it became:
the last petal
In the first you have the sadness of seeing the final petals falling which turns to joy at the sight of the colour of the rose petals mingling with the autumn leaves – Wabi.
In the second you have the sense of loneliness. The last petal, falling into the autumn leaves. Petal singular, all alone in the pile of leaves – Sabi.
Welcome back Devin Harrison, our well travelled, retired teacher from Vancouver Island in Canada. He has been interested in haiku for many years. He studied East Asian studies at the University of Toronto.
He started his poetical life writing long form poetry, which he continued for many years with some success, before returning to haiku. In 2017 his haiku book called Meeting Myself at the Gate was published and can be found on Amazon. Why not take a peek and discover more from Devin.
Perhaps one could say that his haiku today conforms with Kenko’s idea of Wabi, and here it is:
cold winds scatter maple leaves
over the graves
Thank you Devin, I hope we hear from you again.
So a little bit of housekeeping before I go. I have at last put together the topics for submissions for next year and you will find them on the submissions page on the poetrypea.com. I look forward to having lots of emails with all your wonderful work.
Then just to let you know the next podcast will be on December the 10th. I’m going “off grid” for a little while. So forgive me if my response to emails is a bit slow.
I hope to spend this time, writing and walking, enjoying the great outdoors and just maybe I’ll have lots of haiku to share with you.
Thank you so much for coming along today and listening. It was super to have your company, as always.
- Alan Watts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDLVFIYWP3o
- snow on the water Edited by Jim Kacian & the Red Moon Press Editorial Staff https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/files/original/931b7145425460637f3a64b4e9a29aff.pdf
- Terebess asia online https://terebess.hu/english/haiku/glossary.html
- Wabi and Sabi: The Aesthetics of Solitude https://www.hermitary.com/solitude/wabisabi.html
- Tadao Ando: What is Sabi-Wabi? http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm
- Japanese Aesthetics: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-aesthetics/
- Burnell Lippy: Late geese up a dry fork
- Jane Reichhold: Haiku techniques https://www.ahapoetry.com/haiartjr.htm