Thursday, April 29, 2010


I turned to look back at . . .

"Doesn’t everyone know that camellias are red? Of course, but it is the haiku poet's peculiar gift to be startled by the familiar - to be jolted by it into a state of poetry. The distinction is not between knowing and not knowing, but between knowing and experiencing. If a poem can impart the experience, as opposed to mere information, it is a success, and its brevity and simplicity do it no discredit.

"Here Japanese has a distinct advantage over English. English is hard pressed to convey the poetic ambiguity, so natural in Japanese, as to, for example, what the subject of a sentence might be. The camellia poem, eight words long in English, has four words in Japanese, and 'I' is not one of them. That could be you looking back at the camellia, or it could be some third party; it could be all of us together. For that matter, there is no certainty it is the camellia that is being looked back at. Grammatically speaking, it could be the red camellia looking back - at you, perhaps. All this bears on the distinction beteween knowing, which is precise and logical but abstract, and experiencing, which is concrete but inconclusive."

Michael Hoffman, Walking Zen

Photo: Camellias & Forget-Me-Nots—Marin County, 2010

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