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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2

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Poetry as an Open Space for Lightening of Being,
by Hiroo Saga

There are some poems which would evoke, even after a long period of time, thoughts and emotions once embedded in them and things and landscapes once having been looked at by them. One such poem for me is a short one of Ezra Pound in his Lustra. It has the title of 'Papyrus'.

Spring ......
Too long .....
Gongula .....

This is a poem reborn in Pound's putting it in his book, because, as seen in its translation note, it is only the readable top words of the first three lines of Sappho's poem dedicated to Gongula in Corophon, written on and preserved from an ancient leaf of papyrus. Sappho, a woman in Lesboa, is a Greek poet. By this poem spring in Greece emerges in front of me as densely as spring itself, and I feel the sunlight in it coming to present itself in my sight as it was penetrated through the shower in London where Pound had lived.

Classics revive again and again. Pound, in his "ABC of Reading", told young people to read Sappho. According to Pound, "A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions.... It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness". Where, then, does such freshness come from?

Although it is rare, it may come from within the poem where being is sealed inside as itself and that being there conceals itself and discloses itself at the same time. This is the aesthetics rather faintly suggested by Martin Heidegger, and for me, it is in Buson's Haiku poems that this aesthetics would turn up most clearly.

In the light of Heidegger's thinking, Buson's poems emerge as 'poems of being' more than anything else. Of course Buson lived far earlier than Heidegger, and clearly there was no direct correspondence between them. However, beyond this distance what weighs on my mind is, for example, such a Hokku poem of peony as below. This poem is usually viewed as staged on a peony garden, but I look at it as an event inside a room.

Within the quietness of a lull in visitors' absence, appears the peony flower!
(seki to shite kyaku no taema no botan kana)

Possibly after a Haiku meeting, or it seems it could have been any person(s), the poet saw the visitor(s) off and returned to the room. He then looked at the corner, and saw the peony, which has been there for some time, as appearing again, floating in a lull, as though changed to that peony as itself. While residual scents of the visitors in the room are silently disappearing, it is calm, not too light nor dark, and the peony is there lighted on its face by that surrounding air. The poet stands there, veiled in ennui, where he feels both bliss and lament, with that time perceived as a long instant. Even if it is an instant, a time of unworldliness is disclosed there, as a poet himself or for a man as a Heideggerian Da-sein, to be almost continual to eternity.

Reading this way, that poem appears nearly identical with the thinking of Heidegger that Being discloses itself as it conceals itself and, at the same time, that Being hides itself as it reveals itself. And it is an apparent tendency in Buson's good poems that he uses a technique of crossing a poetic image of a thing in its existence with its negative image by saying that the thing is not there. In other words, it is by his skillful use of negatives or words with negative connotation that a Heidegger-like disclosure of Being occurs in such a poem with itself being the place for that appearing. Such a negative word in the above peony poem is 'absence', and another peony poem of his reflecting typically such a Heideggerian scenery is

'After having fallen, its image still stands - the peony flower'.

Here such words as 'after', 'fallen', and 'image', which all have a negative attitude towards the visible events, are used continuously.

The place like this, where a thing in its existence is realised at the same time with that thing in its absence, is a cleft of existence from where the time is to extend to eternity. It is a place where 'nothing' crosses with 'being' or the 'clearing' in Heidegger's term, the only light place in the dark forest. Saying with another poem of Buson, it is the place where 'The road has ended, close fragrance of blooming - thorn bushes!'

At the road's end, where it suddenly becomes open, thorns' scent and figure draw to one's whole body. Though imaginative, what a deep experience! Even in the more popular poem,

'Rape-seed flowers; the moon in the east and the sun in the west',

the sky extending between the moon and the sun can be read to be such a cleft of existence.

Another attribute of this kind of nothingness is that it embraces movement. That is to say, by moving from the state of being to the state of not-being, the thing realises itself to be as the thing not being there. Because such a movement itself is included in the state of nothingness, the state of being, which was the starting point of that movement, is also embraced within that nothingness. In another poem of Buson,

'Peony having scattered, two or three petals lie on one another',

such an existential movement is the essence of its poetic space. It is in this sort of poetry that the initial meanings of such Greek words as 'physis' and 'poiesis' used in Heidegger are made to shine so vividly. To say further in Heideggerian style, it is the 'simultaneous occurrence of appearing and concealing'.

Buson, in fact, created these poems, but at the same time, the being of peony, for example, has made him give birth to these poems. The poet there was rather listening to Being, and in response, it made itself appear through the form of poetry. Because of this, it can also conceal itself in the form of poetry. The poet is indeed what Heidegger called 'the shepherd of Being'.

Translated from Japanese text in Shigaku, August, 1994, pp. 24-25. Apologies for my clumsy expression in English.—Hiroo Saga (1994)

Hiroo Saga is the professor of Educational Media study at the National Institute of Multimedia Education, Japan. His main research interests include cognitive and motivational processes of learning with media, expressional styles of visual media as an affecting factor in learning, and poetry and art of Yosa Buson. He has been a Fulbright Researcher at the Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London. His full bibliography is found here: .

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