Friday, April 12, 2013

R. H. Blyth: Still Complaining - A Friday Idyll

Photo by Derpunk

Much of what is read in the commentary of R. H. Blyth's classic volumes on haiku might be considered as a kind of haibun, so close is he to the original, and so lyrical is his critical prose. Take this example, in which I've placed Issa's poem after the commentary which it originally preceded (to heighten the similarity to haibun) , from volume 3 of Haiku:

Issa is not grumbling at the grumbler. This verse has a prescript, "Man's desires are infinite, but his life is not." To want, to desire, is human, is thus divine, is part of our nature, is part of our Buddha nature. It is how we desire that decides whether we are a Buddha or an a ordinary man. It is not the grumbling, but how we grumble; it is the peevishness, querulousness, petulance that is 

This verse, written when Issa was fifty seven, is his considered criticism of human life. What distinguishes man from the lower animals is the very thing that degrades him below them.

This cool breeze
Through the summer room,
But still complaining
     tr. R. H. Blyth

Now, there is much to grumble about Blyth's commentary; I feel I can hear it now, so perhaps it is really coming from me and not some imaginary critic. Is being human thus, therefore, being divine? Yet, to be wrongheaded is not to be wrong. Is not this the very lesson imparted in the action taken, the thoughts penned?

Just read some D.H. Lawrence, whom Blyth greatly admired. Both perfected the art of being right via the act of being wrong. 

Something the Bard knew all about, desire that is (tricked up a bit). And then there is that other master

Or group of masters, but we are somehow beyond desire now, and returning through that wrong-headed back door.

This, this is truly human nature, truly Buddha nature.


Issa wrote some fine poems about breezes, as above.  Here are three, translated by David G. Lanoue:

in the spring breeze
already casting shadows...

the cool breeze

saying my apology
to the sacred tree...
a cool breeze 

Photo by Seemann



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Ed Baker said...

lots o0f "points" in this post hit
the same nail-on-the-head of
what I have just read in Coomaraswamy's book
,the first chapter of called "The Theory of Art in Asia":

"As to [...], a multitude of passages could be adduced
to show that it is not the outward appearance (hsing) as
such, but rather the idea (i,5367) in the mind of the artiste, or the immanent divine spirit (shen,9819), or breath of life (ch'i,1064), that is to be revealed by a right use of natural forms. We have not merely the first canon of Hsieh Ho, which asserts that the work of art must revel "the operation (gun, 13817) of the spirit (ch'i) in life-movementm" but also such sayings
as "By means of natural shape (hsing) represent divine spirit (shen)," "The painters of old painted the idea (i) and not merely the shape (hsing)," [ etcs]."

so ?
we have Eastern artists/poets whose emotions spring out of a quiescence that most Western artist/poets can't acknowledge or make "use" of ?


et ceteras as your post (and they "speak" towards ..

well the book of the trilogy just before
She Intrudes is (called/titled) DE:SIRE IS

which is an attempt towards this-all
also ..... I think.

nice post ... there IS something "in the air"
which is definitely a fresh breath of

Andrea said...

I love this post - never knew that Blyth was so cool. And I may be taking this a bit out of context, but while I was reading about the 'wrong-doing' not really being so - I was munching on a bag of potato chips and happily released from the 'wrong-doing' guilt of bad-for-you snacking. LOL. Love, love, love your thought processes and David's poetic translations of such a tender soul as Master Issa. Thanks again Don for a fun and thoughtful post.