Friday, April 22, 2005


Thanks to some insights posted by Gilbert, I have been thinking a great deal about the Teasdale poem in the previous post. The transience of beauty is an idea that fascinates me; I return to this idea over and over whether I intend to or not.

I like the way this concept is expressed in mono no aware, a Japanese phrase frequently translated as "the ahh-ness of things." I don't care for that translation; it's too literal. Mono means "thing" or "things" in English, so when we see it in a phrase that tends to defy English translation, we cling to that word for dear life. I think of mono no aware as a brief, transcendent connection to beauty. It is a moment in which we lose the separateness between ourselves and that which we are observing. Its original meaning refers to objects in nature--animals, plants, ponds, fish, trees, etc.--but we can experience it with anything with which we feel that transcendent connection. For more details and discussion about mono no aware, check out this page.

This sense of connection to beauty, its transience, and its inherent poignancy is perhaps best expressed in the Japanese poetic form called haiku. Many English speakers understand haiku to be all about the strict syllabic form--5-7-5, for example--but the most important thing about haiku is to capture the essence of that brief connection with that which is being observed, while also expressing the transience of that connection. (If you have the "Poets Market 2005" edition, check out a great article in there about haiku.)

Here is one I really like. It is from A Haiku Menagerie, a beautiful book that includes both the Japanese haiku and the English translation. (Great for studying up on your kanji.)

An old pond--
after jumping in,
no frog!


(Photo found on this site.)


Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

Enjoyed your words on my blog. Fascinating post here. I love to write poetry but haiku style doesn't come easily to me.

It's ironic that I was editing my post for today while you were on my blog and used this word in a quote by another: transcendent

sweet spontaneous said...

The thing that strikes me about this haiku comes out a bit in your description of them- some of the best ones make me laugh. The ah-ness of things indeed. Startling but subtle, spontaneous but calm. Thank God that the East had civilization well before us so we couldn't overthrow them with our linear thought.

D-Thinker said...

I like it, well I liked it so much I did a Haiku post, I guess part of my post belongs to you because you inspired it.

quaisi said...

I`m living in Japan and studying Japanese but I never took mono no aware to be Japanese. It sounds more Spanish or Italian to my English ears although you are of course undoubtedly right.

You have an excellent and to my knowledge almost unique blog. Many bloggers fill their pages with poetry but far fewer analyse other`s works. Your site is endlessly fascinating. Well done.

Gone Away said...

Actually "mono" in English is of Latin derivation and means "one". Hence "monomania", "monopoly" and "monotheism".

Amy said...

Hi gone--

I'm not sure the latin derivation of an English prefix is relevant here. I'm referring to the Japanese pronunciation (mono) of a Chinese character.

Check out this link to see the character and how it is used:

Gone Away said...

Ah, misunderstanding. I see now that you meant that the Japanese word "mono" means thing. Sorry (are we fated to always disagree with each other?) ;)

Knitting Painter Woman said...

Thanks for the serendipity... I'd not have guessed that Drucker was a fan of zen and Haiku. Yet, it makes sense.