Thursday, February 11, 2010

372. 物の哀れ (mono no aware)

sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt
Aeneid I.462 (Virgil)

when the tears arrive
tensely flowing from your eyes
they embrace the void

here there is nothing
once there were so many things
nothing now remains

a feeling of fear
your eyes seek here, they dart there
still there is nothing

fresh green tatami
the absence of all objects
emptiness, nothing

from the great window
stripped, denuded of curtains
the outside looks in

in a flower vase
under the tokonoma
three sprigs of blossom

you have never been
this lonely in your life ...
nor quite so happy.

Lacrimae rerum (from that dear old imperial sycophant, Virgil): Aeneas, while crying, says, "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt" as he gazes at one of the murals found in a Carthaginian temple, which depicts battles of the Trojan War and deaths of his friends and countrymen: ... "tears for mortal things (sufferings) touch the soul." ... The burden man has to bear, ever present frailty and suffering, defines the essence of human experience.

Mono no aware (物の哀れ, mono no aware, lit. "the pathos of things"), also translated as "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity of ephemera," is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujo or the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing (which explains why the whole country is so big into cherry blossoms, which are undeniably beautiful but only last about a week). This poem goes off on a slightly different tangent, to "wabi" and "sabi" which is the old, but very closely related (and quite definitely NOT modern) fixation on absence and silence and ... (not brought out in the poem) the studied non-perfection of carefully-made beloved things: so if you like your old teacup or teddy bear from when you were a kid, or insist on wearing that smelly old pullover you had in college then you are closer to the wabi-sabi ideal than the following Wikipedia definition: Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The phrase comes from the two words wabi and sabi. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence (三法印, sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常, mujō).

tatami - Japanese mat flooring, green and pungently aromatic when new, then gradually yellowing with age. All traditional Japanese houses (or rooms within houses) have this flooring, as do temples.

tokonoma - an alcove let into a wall in a traditional Japanese room to allow for a hanging scroll or other decoration, usually fronted with a vase of seasonal blossoms or flowers.