The leaf, the rain and the poet

Yesterday, I managed to put my back out . I just bent over to pick up a file of papers and it gave way. Some of you will remember a more serious occasion in Delhi two years ago and me laying on the floor for weeks on end, moaning… but that’s another story. Anyway, as I lay there in a completely dignified manner with an ice-pack glued to my lower spine, I was distracted by the rain pelting down on my windows; it is almost summer in London after all. Then something odd happened. A leaf landed against the pane. A single, solitary leaf, not extraordinary, a leaf from a neighbour’s tree. It just sat there. Stuck. It’s still there despite the sunshine and the best efforts of the evening winds to dislodge it. It got me thinking. Firstly, how dirty the windows actually are and then, looking at it more closely, I thought I’d photograph the little chap. Over the last few years, I seem to have been looking more and more at plants and less and less at people. For the last couple of years, I’ve been making work in Delhi about space and gardens as a way to view the city and, strangely enough, I think my favourite frame that I made last year was of a tree and its fallen blossom in Hue on assignment in Vietnam. I don’t think my leaf is in that league but it did bring to mind the poetry of Ryokan whose work I always have with me when I travel and when I am down:

The plants and flowers
I raised about my hut
I now surrender
To the will
Of the wind

My particular favourite when it’s raining in London and when I have hurt my back:

You must rise above
The gloomy clouds
Covering the mountaintop
Otherwise, how will you
Ever see the brightness?

Here are the photographs that I mentioned. I hope that you like them. One day, I will go back to Japan and make some work on Ryokan

A leaf on a window pane blown there in a storm
UK - London - A leaf on a window pane blown there in a storm
Vietnam - Hue - Fallen blossoms under a tree
Vietnam - Hue - Fallen blossoms under a tree

3 replies on “The leaf, the rain and the poet”

What a delightful interlude, this Japanese poetry thing. You’re back, my gut – we both need some brightness above the mountaintop.You’ve got me hooked. Give us a link to more!

Richard, glad you like the post on Ryokan. There’s any number of links to him on the web, but I particularly like the one here:
I had no idea that anyone would write about hermitages but it seems such a nice idea I wonder why no-ones done it before. Would make a very interesting project to photograph… Ironically of course, the idea of a Zen practitioner being attached to anything like a hermitage is slightly odd, although he did write a poem to his lost begging bowl…

If you like Ryokan, I’d suggest looking at Basho who though not connected to any Zen lineage as such (that I know) certainly wrote strikingly spare and beautiful haiku (or hokku as then known) in that style. His most famous offering:

an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water

is simply perfect. His ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’ (or ‘Interior’ depending on your translation) is a brilliant travelogue.

This idea of an ‘awakening’ with something as everyday as water is an old device. The Nun Chiyono famously attained enlightenment when the bottom fell out of her bucket spilling water which reflected the moon (‘No water no moon’)

Anyway, also check out Masoaka Shiki a baseball playing Japanese poet who died of TB early in the twentieth century that revolutionised Haiku and the short poetry form. His diary entries while he was bed bound are very sad but come back to the theme of the impermanence of things (like the leaf, which is where we came in…).

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