Saturday, February 04, 2006

On Ikebana & Art is Life

A counter-view to my studious exceptionalism in regards Japan and the West comes from classfellow Maja B. who kindly sends the following two poems, skillfully excerpted, from Wallace Stevens and Syvia Plath, that, in her view, resonante with my translation of the term for Japanese flower arrangement -- ikebana -- as flowers kept alive. A passage on ikebana by Mishima Yukio in his Temple of the Golden Pavilion expresses this principle in relation to his understanding of a Japanese attitude to human life:
The movement of Kashiwagi’s hands could only be described as magnificent. One small decision followed another, and the effects of contrast and symmetry converged with infallible artistry. Nature’s plants were brought vividly under the sway of an artificial order and made to conform to an established melody. The flowers and leaves, which had formerly existed as they were, had now been transformed into flowers and leaves as they ought to be. The cattails and the irises were no longer individual, anonymous plants belonging to their respective species, but had become terse, direct manifestations of what might be called the essence of the irises and the cattails.
Yet there was something cruel about the movement of his hands. They behaved as though they had some unpleasant, gloomy privilege in relation tothe plants. Perhaps it was because of this that each time that I heard the sound of the scissors and saw the stem of one of the
flowers being cut I had the impression that I could detect the dripping of blood.

Wallace Stevens - Man with the blue guitar (excerpt)


The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."


I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.


Ah, but to play man number one,
To drive the dagger in his heart,

To lay his brain upon the board
And pick the acrid colors out,

To nail his thought across the door,
Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,

To strike his living hi and ho,
To tick it, tock it, turn it true,

To bang it from a savage blue,
Jangling the metal of the strings...


So that's life, then: things are they are?
It picks its way on the blue guitar.

A million people on one string?
And all their manner in the thing,

And all their manner, right and wrong,
And all their manner, weak and strong?

And that's life, then: things as they are,
This buzzing of the blue guitar.

Sylvia Plath - Love is a Parallax (excerpt)

The paradox is that 'the play's the thing':
though prima donna pouts and critic stings,
there burns throughout the line of words,
the cultivated act, a fierce brief fusion
which dreamers call real, and realists, illusion:
an insight like the flight of birds:
Arrows that lacerate the sky, while knowing
the secret of their ecstasy's in going;
some day, moving, one will drop,
and, dropping, die, to trace a wound that heals
only to reopen as flesh congeals:
cycling phoenix never stops.

1 comment:

Maja B. said...

This isn't to say that I'm happily wedding Japanese and European philosophy; Wallace Stevens is a very unique poet and thinker.