Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Excerpts from
Nine Gates, Entering the Mind of Poetry,
Jane Hirschfield

This is a charming book of essays on the aesthetics and forms of poetry, using source material from Greek, Western and Japanese influences. This book contains many gems.

"Behind each jewel are 3,000 sweating horses." -- Zen proverb

Here she quotes the Mountain & Rivers Sutra by Eihei Dogen:

"All beings do not see mountains and rivers in the same way. Some beings see water as a jeweled ornament, but they do not see jeweled ornaments as water. What in the human realm corresponds to their water? We only see their jeweled ornaments as water. . . Thus the views of all beings are not the same. You should question this matter now. Are there many ways to see one thing, or is it a mistake to see many forms as one thing?. . .

It is not only that there is water in the world, but there is a world in water. . . When you investigate the flowing of a handful of water and the not-flowing of it, full mastery of all things is instantly present.

And there are mountains hidden in treasures. There are mountains hidden in swamps. There are mountains hidden in the sky. There are mountains hidden in mountains. There are mountains hidden in hiddenness. This is complete understanding. Therefore, investigate mountains thoroughly. When you investigate mountains thoroughly, this is the work of the mountains. Such mountains and rivers of themselves become sages and teachers."

Fujiwara no Shunzei, 12th Century Japanese poet on the priciple of "yugen":

"A good poem will possess a kind of atmosphere that is distinct from its words and their configuration and yet accompanies them. The atmosphere hovers over the poem like the haze that trails over the cherry blossoms in spring, like the cry of the deer heard against the autumn moon, like the fragrance of spring in the flowering plum by the garden fence, like the autumn drizzle that drifts down upon the crimson foliage on some mountain peak."

Japanese poet Komachi:

" How invisble
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the huma heart."


" This very body, with all its passions, is itself the body of freedom."

Jane Hirschfield:

"Only when looked at from a place of asideness and exile does the life of the world step fully forward."

"Journey far enough in the terrain of language and the heart will begin to speak"

"There are things we can possess only by following them into the realm of disguise. There, we may be given a quarry altered, more pungent and wilder and stranger than we have surmised."

Wallace Stevens:

"The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens and orchards and fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless."

Jane Hirschfield:

"A savage spirit raging in the dark does not sit lightly and easily through Thanksgiving dinners; it refuses to charm, to acquiesce, to go to bed at a reasonable hour, to bend to the ways of the world."

"In Catholic mysticism there is a path known as the via negativa -- the practice of emptying the self of its own will, desires, and even knowledge, in order that the soul may be filled with God. Poetry offers a similar path."

Hakuin, from the Song of Zazen:

"In this moment, what is there to look for?
This very place is the Lotus Land.
This very body is the body of the Buddha."