Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Of Poetry and Japanese Gardens

Poetry, in both the classical Chinese forms as well as the native Japanese forms have for long had a bearing on gardens. The influence has not it is true been quite as direct as Chinese landscape painting though it should not be underestimated as an influence on the development on the garden tradition. The concise nature of poetry and its propensity toward suggestion rather than narrative description has meant that  it has often been used to generate the evocative nature of the gardens themselves.

On the desolate stony shore
Of the garden lake, where he once walked,
There grows alas weeds,
That grew not there before.

This poem from the Manyöshu, compiled in 759, is one of several that feature in that important collection, which strongly evoke garden images. From such sources we can create an impression of the kind of garden that existed in the earliest days of garden building in Japan. Likewise in this poem, also from the Manyöshu, we can gain an image of a rocky shoreline to the pond overhung with Pieris japonica.

In the shadow of the rocks
The pond water
Glows with the colours
of Andromeda flowers.
Must these fall ?

What is also revealed here is the manner in which nature, and thus the garden was being appreciated; that is the fleeting, transient quality of beauty of the flowers being set against the rugged, dark stones of the shoreline, itself being observed as shadow. This, observation of the ephemeral nature of the phenomenal world is seemingly a constant theme of  writers particularly in the Heian period. An observation that is recorded with an eye that sees beauty within the futility of desiring to imagine one can do other than respond to nature's movements. It is an attitude that has persisted right up into modern times. in some respects. The garden is also being portrayed as an extension of Nature into the domain of man, where the relationship is one whereby man appreciates, understands his role in relation to Nature, and accepts it for what it is, without necessarily seeking to apply an illusion of dominance over Nature. 

As Ivan Morris writes: " They (members of Heian society) strive to blend themselves with the nature that surrounds them, believing that thus they can learn to understand themselves and those about them. Sensitivity to the subtle moods of nature was an essential attribute of 'good people'. Without such sensitivity it was impossible to enter into 'the emotional quality of things', which was regarded as the basis of aesthetic, and even, moral awareness. ". The garden as metaphor, expressing a vision of Arcadia through the created landscape, blending earth, water, stone and plants is in another way of creating poetry . A sentiment Lancelot Brown might have of approved of. 

Poetry is also associated in the practice of naming pavillions and other architectural features in the garden. Katsura Rikyu is a example of this practice, where the 'Gepparo' pavillion ( literally the 'Moon-Wave Tower') is so named after a poem by the Chinese poet Po-Chü-i, which describes the moon as a " jewel flickering in the heart of the waves ". The practice became wide spread from an early date in Japan, and is adapted from the Chinese practice which linked garden architecture as a means of linking poetry and garden scenery. The use of poetry in the garden was a means by which the imagination of the viewer could be encouraged to take flight whilst viewing a garden.

The haiku (17 syllables, set in three lines) was developed from the fifteenth century onward as a distinct poetic form.  It is interesting that the haiku with its emphasis on brevity and exploring the extremes of suggestibility, came about at a time when the greatest of karesansui ('dry landscape')gardens were being developed. Whilst there would be no direct link between the two events, their shared concerns are indicative of shared patterns of the expression of experience. In haiku fragments of an image are gathered in a projected space about which the reader's mind builds a more complete pattern of cognition of the image. In the karesansui garden, the same practice is utilised, except stones are placed in the garden space in a pattern of relationship to one another that also allows the viewer to enter the picture. As the haiku becomes an object of meditation, so too is the karesansui  garden. They are both attempts to cut direct to spiritual truth, stripping away all but the absolute essential elements. Superfluous elaboration in expression serves to repress the potential for suggestion, and thus hinder the  engagement of the imagination of the viewer.

Autumn wind-
the mountain's shadow

This latter aspect is exploited most fully in the karesansui form of garden. The garden of Ryoan-ji with its fifteen stones set in a courtyard bare of anything other than raked garden, is the garden as a haiku poem. This latter aspect is exploited most fully in the karesansui form of garden. The famous garden of Ryoan-ji temple with its fifteen stones set in a courtyard bare of anything other than raked garden, is the garden as if a haiku poem. Very often , in the karesansui garden the components of the garden are pared down to the minimum required to represent a scene. The landscape is sketched in with fewest possible brush strokes, this deliberate economy of form, allows the maximum degree of  engagement of the imagination of the viewer. The discipline of the gardener's hand , allows the viewer a creative role in 'completing the garden'.

Poetry is used as a means of directing the thoughts and heart of the person observing the garden deeper, beyond the world of material phenomena into the mystical, non-intellectual reality of Nature. The presence of poetry in the garden, as part of its fabric, reinforces the impression that the garden is a world set apart from everyday reality. In the garden Nature is represented as a 'super-reality', as much a state of mind as a place in nature. As the poet sets out to condense his vision of Nature into a different kind of reality, so the garden designer also attempts to create a world in which the viewer may gain experience of Nature in a more concentrated form.

When we leave behind,
The Three Worlds' Abode of Fire,
Storm and passion tossed
Entering the Dewy Path,
Through the pines a pure breeze blows.
                                                       Sen no Rikyu

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