Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lit dew shimmers


Poet and Chinese scholar David Hinton has specialised in translations from the Chinese rivers-and-mountains tradition. He has been well served by publishers – the books are beautifully produced, as can be seen on the David Hinton website. As I write this I am looking at the Archipelago Books edition of The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan, printed on “60lb Mohawk Vellum” paper, with its imagistic poems spaced elegantly on each page.

The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan is the first English book devoted completely to the High T’ang poet Meng Hao-jan (689-740). The introduction quotes poems by Li Po and Wang Wei to give a sense of how these better known poets revered Meng, and a later poem by Po Chü-i in which ‘Meng himself disappears into landscape while his poems survive as landscape’. Rather than become a bureaucrat or monk, Meng lived a simple life in the mountains of Hsiang-yang. His surviving body of work is not large; ‘it is said that Meng’s practice was to destroy poems after writing them because they inevitably failed to render experience at that absolute level that lies beyond words.’

There are a few sample poems on Hinton’s site which demonstrate the way Meng rendered experience: “My thatch hut grows still. At the bottom stair, in bunchgrass, lit dew shimmers.” In one of these poems, Meng climbs Long-View Mountain to survey the landscape, clouded in mists and blossoms. In another, Meng writes from his ‘bamboo-leaf gardens’ to Ch'ao, the ‘Palace Reviser’ – while Ch’ao toils in the library, Meng lives close to nature, where words start to be forgotten.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Earthrise


There is currently a trend for uncovering documentary photographs and considering them in the context of landscape art practices and conventions - a recent example is the book Record Pictures: Photographs from the Archives of the Institution of Civil Engineers by Michael Collins. Perhaps the most spectacular set of documentary photographs recovered in this way is Michael Lite’s reprints from the NASA archive. His Full Moon site has some of these images.

Most of the best lunar landscapes were photographed from orbiting spacecraft, e.g. a view of Rima Ariadaeus, a terraced wall crater, and a lunar rille, all photographed by the Apollo 10 astronauts in May of 1969. The best known lunar landscape is one in which the moon is merely the frame: Earthrise (above) photographed by William A. Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 from Apollo 8. For the story of how the photograph came to be taken, see the account by Robert Zimmerman. The ABC site has the black and white image by Apollo 8’s commander Frank Borman, and the famous colour image rotated to the orientation Anders originally saw through the viewfinder.

Is there a danger in aestheticising these photographs? Landscape often gives rise to questions about the overlap between scientific observation and art. The status of these Apollo photographs might be likened to the paintings of John Russell (1745-1806), who made meticulous studies of the moon’s surface using a telescope, like this one.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Scottish streams

John Millais, Portrait of John Ruskin, 1853-4

In this memorable passage, John Ruskin observes the acoustic qualities of Scottish streams:
'I know no other waters to be compared with them; - such streams can only exist under very subtle concurrence of rock and climate. There must be much soft rain, not (habitually) tearing the hills down with floods; and the rocks must break irregularly and jaggedly. Our English Yorkshire shales and limestones merely form – carpenter-like – tables and shelves for the rivers to drip and leap from; while the Cumberland and Welsh rocks break too boldly, and lose the multiplied chords of musical sound. Farther, the loosely-breaking rock must contain hard pebbles, to give the level shore of white shingle, through which the brown water may stray wide, in rippling threads. The fords even of English rivers have given the names to half our prettiest towns and villages – (the difference between ford and bridge curiously – if one may let one’s fancy loose for a moment – characterizing the difference between the baptism of literature, and the edification of mathematics, in our two great universities); but the pure crystal of the Scottish pebbles, giving the stream is gradations of amber to the edge, and the sound as of ‘ravishing division to the lute,’ make the Scottish fords the happiest pieces of all one’s day walk.'

From Fors Clavigera, Letter XXXII, August 1873, Section 14

Monday, April 24, 2006

Vague snow descending


A John Clare poem gives its title to a new anthology of ‘poems for the planet’, The Thunder Mutters, edited by Alice Oswald, author of Dart. Clare’s biographer Jonathan Bate has reviewed it in The Guardian. Clare is also represented among Oswald’s 101 choices by a transcription of a nightingale song and a prose description of a woodman working in a winter forest. These examples convey her aim in the anthology to highlight poems that enter directly into the natural world through close observation or labour (Oswald herself worked as a gardener). As she says in the introduction, “no prospect, pastorals or nostalgic poems are in here…” So in a way this is an anthology about poets in the landscape rather than ‘landscape poems’.

Nevertheless, one poem in The Thunder Mutters is simply called ‘Landscape’. The poem didn’t have this title in French (frustratingly there is no information about any of the poems apart from some incomplete acknowledgements, so it is unclear to the reader when or in what form this poem, or others like ‘The Thunder Matters’, were first written or published). ‘Landscape’ is a translation by C.F. Macintyre of Paul Verlaine’s ‘Dans l’interminable ennui de la plaine’ (1874). This poem concerns neither nature nor outdoor work - it is a landscape of the mind, a ‘flat land’ with ‘vague snow descending’ and woods where misty grey oaks twist like clouds:

Dans l'interminable
Ennui de la plaine
La neige incertaine
Luit comme du sable.
Le ciel est de cuivre
Sans lueur aucune
On croirait voir vivre
Et mourir la lune.
Comme des nuées
Flottent gris les chênes
Des forêts prochaines
Parmi les buées…

Alice Oswald places this ‘Landscape’ opposite ‘Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues’ by blues singer Charlie Patton, which gives an indication of the anthology’s range. It is a strength of the book that her selections are quirky and personal – she includes a poem by her husband and local epitaphs from Bideford and Great Torrington churches. The combination of famous poems by writers like Marianne Moore, Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman interspersed with fragments of oral and experimental poetry make The Thunder Mutters a very enjoyable collection.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Swordy Well

There is a good John Clare blog which combine extracts from the poems and prose with appropriate images. Some recent posts have been on Clare’s poem ‘The Lament for Swordy Well’ – site of a quarry near Clare’s home which has recently been saved from developers by the Langdyke Trust.

Swordy Well is one of Clare’s special places… it seems inappropriate to use the term ‘landscape’ in connection with poetry so immersed in its subject. In Edwin Paxton Hood’s book The Literature of Labour, published in 1851 when Clare was still living in the Northampton Asylum, it is noted that ‘other poets select a river, or a mountain, and individualise it, but to Clare all are but parts of the same lovely Home, and as every part of the home is endeared – the chair, the shelf, the lattice, the wreathing flower, the fire-place, the table – so is every object in Nature a beloved object, because the whole is beloved.’

One telling example of the way Clare goes beyond other poets in his relationship with the natural world is provided by R. K .R. Thornton, in his introduction to a short anthology of Clare’s verse published by Everyman (1997). Clare is ‘the only poet I know of who would be able to describe the changes in trees not by descriptions of the leaves, not by accounts of the blossom or berries, but by describing changes in the bark.’ Thornton cites as an example ‘Pleasures of Spring’ in which Clare describes the bark of blackthorn darkening, hazels shoots regaining bright freckles and ‘foulroyce’ (dogwood) twigs shining red as ‘stockdoves’ claws.’

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Small woods, and here and there a voide place

The OED is allowing free access to its online edition this week. Here are four definitions of the word ‘landscape’ along with some illustrative quotations from the seventeenth century.

  • A picture representing natural inland scenery, as distinguished from a sea picture, a portrait, etc: 1605 Ben Jonson in The Masque of Blackness, “First, for the Scene, was drawne a Landtschap, consisting of small woods...”
  • The background of scenery in a portrait or figure-painting (obsolete): 1656 Thomas Blount in Glossographia, “All that which in a Picture is not of the body or argument thereof is Landskip, Parergon, or by-work.”
  • A view or prospect of natural inland scenery, such as can be taken in at a glance from one point of view; a piece of country scenery: 1632 John Milton in L’Allegro, “Streit mine eye has caught new pleasures Whilst the Lantskip round it measures.”
  • In a generalized sense, inland natural scenery, or its representation in painting: 1606 Thomas Dekker in The seuen deadly sinnes of London, “A Drollerie (or Dutch peece of Lantskop).”
The first of these references, The Masque of Blackness, was Ben Jonson’s first masque, performed for Queen Anne on 6 January 1606. It is usually discussed in relation to issues of race and gender, but the artificial landscape scenery is interesting as it was part of an early Inigo Jones design. Here is the full description from which the OED's quotation above is taken:

First, for the Scene, was drawne a Landtschape, consisting of small woods, and here and there a voide place filld with huntings; which falling, an artificiall Sea was seene to shoote forth, as if it flowed to the land, raised with waues, which seemed to moue, and in some places the billow to breake, as imitating that orderly disorder, which is common in nature.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mountains and clouds, reflected

Charles Tomlinson, a poet who has always drawn inspiration from landscapes and landscape painting, once wrote a review (Modern Painters Spring 1989) in which he described his discovery of Cézanne through books. This intellectual journey began during the war, when it was not possible to view any actual paintings, with a tiny black and white illustration of a view of Gardanne in Eric Newton’s European Painting and Sculpture. However, the first significant book was Adrian Stokes’ Cézanne, which Tomlinson read in 1948. Stokes likened Cézanne’s treatment of form to ‘trees reflected by slightly undulating water’, a metaphor that Tomlinson links to these lines of Wordsworth (The Prelude Book IV) that, like the paintings, focus our attention on the process of perception itself:

As one who hangs down-bending from the side
Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
Of a still water, solacing himself
With such discoveries as his eye can make
Beneath him in the bottom of the deep,
Sees many beauteous sights--weeds, fishes, flowers,
Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
Yet often is perplexed, and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
Of the clear flood, from things which there abide
In their true dwelling…


Who else did Tomlinson go on to read? Merleau-Ponty’s 1948 essay Le Doute de Cézanne is described quite rightly as a ‘wonderful fifteen pages’. Tomlinson was also stimulated by the discussion of Cézanne’s painting The Abandoned House in André Breton’s L’Amour Fou. Then there were the writings of William Rubin (‘Cézanne and the beginnings of Cubism’, 1977), Theodore Reff (‘Painting and Theory in the Final Decade’, 1978) and Meyer Shapiro (various books). However, Tomlinson ends the review recommending the ‘necessary’ book, Cézanne: A Biography by John Rewald.

A postscript to this list was a letter Tomlinson wrote in the next issue explaining that he regretted having had to exclude Kurt Badt’s ‘remarkable’ The Art of Cézanne (1965), as well as D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Introduction to these Paintings’ (1929), Rilke’s letters on Cézanne and Charles Biederman’s The New Cézanne (1958)… So, to summarise, here were Tomlinson’s favourite Cézanne writers, 17 years ago: Stokes, Merleau-Ponty, Breton, Rubin, Reff, Shapiro, Rewald, Badt, Lawrence, Rilke and Biederman.

Tomlinson mentions the Modern Painters piece on Cézanne in a 1991 interview with David Morley in The North. For more on Tomlinson see The Charles Tomlinson Resource Centre. His new book Cracks in the Universe appears next month.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Wall, Dymchurch

On the centenary of the birth of Paul Nash (1889-1946) there was an exhibition of his art called 'Paul Nash: Places' which focused on seven key landscapes in his career. These landscapes were: Iver Heath, where his family bought a house in 1900; The Wittenham Clumps, strange chalk hills with a group of beech trees at the summit; The Chilterns, where Nash lived immediately after the First World War; the bleak coastal landscape of Dymchurch; Avebury with its prehistoric stones; Monster Field in Gloucestershire, a site where Nash drew and photographed surreal tree forms; and Boar's Hill near Oxford, home of Nash's friend Hilda Harrisson, where he stayed in the early 1940s.

The paintings, lithographs and wood engravings Nash made at Dymchurch are particularly compelling when seen as a group. They usually centre on the concrete sea wall and are constructed from the flat planes of sea, sand, steps, pathway and sky. Sometimes there are lonely haunted figures, as in Promenade (1922). It is easy to imagine Nash's memories of the War and his struggle to readjust influencing the mood of these landscapes. Before moving to Dymchurch Nash had never really liked the sea. Indeed in writing about his early life he recalled that his parents had not only failed to encourage his artistic career but had suggested he join the Navy: "I cannot blame my parents for not dedicating me to art but in offering me to the sea I think they were a little casual." However "in those days I knew nothing of the sea or the magical implication of aerial perspective across miles of shore where waves alternately devour and restore the land" (Nash in Outline; an autobiography and other writings (1949) quoted by Clare Colvin in the Paul Nash: Places (1989) exhibition catalogue). These magical implications were what Nash was seeking to explore in images of Dymchurch like Promenade II (1920) and The Wall, Dymchurch (c 1923).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hole in the ground

Artist and musician Jem Finer, has been awarded the first PRS Foundation £50,000 New Music Award to create a sound art installation with Stour Valley Arts in King's Wood. The PRS Foundation site has this description: "Inspired by suikinkutsu, water chimes found in the temple gardens of Japan, Score for a Hole in the Ground uses tuned percussive instruments, played by falling water, to create music. A root like system of ducts will collect and amplify the sounds, via a brass horn, rising 20 feet above ground level. Finer describes his project as, ‘both music and an integrated part of the landscape and the forces that operate on it and in it.’" There is a video in which Finer talks about the way the piece will interact with its setting, both as sound and sculpture. Score for a Hole in the Ground will depend "on the cycle of the seasons, the weather and the landscape... the whole piece is played by nature."

The origins of suikinkutsu lay in the realisation by Japanese gardeners that vessels buried upside down under the earth to help drain water away made particularly pleasing sounds.  They became popular in the Edo period associated with the chōzubachi (hand wash basin) used in the tea ceremony.   The visitor would first hear a few drops echoing below, a sound known as ryūsuion, as they began to wash their hands.  This would be followed by another sound, suitekion, as more water fell from the basin.  The simple act of hand washing was thus turned into music.  In the twentieth century suikinkutsu fell out of use and in 1959 only two were known to be still in existence, silent and buried under soil.  However, in the last couple of decades there has been a revival and they are now readily available to buy in metal or unglazed pottery.  Their physical appearance is unimportant because they are never seen: the beauty of the suikinkutsu is that it plays unseen and the location of the sound is a kind of mystery.

Jem Finer was previously artist in residence at the Oxford University Astrophysics Department and has made an album called Visionary Landscapes.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Light floating like fog

The English version of Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids is now available in paperback (Thames & Hudson). Andrey Tarkovsky took to using a Polaroid camera in the late seventies and these images of Vermeer-like interiors and landscapes of memory are a distillation of the particular atmosphere that some of us find compelling in his films. The Guardian site has some of these photographs alongside some brief commentary by Andrey Tarkovsky’s son (this commentary would have been welcome in the book – instead there are quotations from the director’s writings).


Instant Light includes an essay by photographer Giovanni Chiaramonte which is available at the excellent Tarkovsky site Nostalghia.com. Chiaramonte draws attention to the way these photographs capture different aspects of the light of Italy and Russia. There is ‘a soft, suffused light floating like the fog over the fields of the immense plain around Myasnoye’, Tarkovsky’s house in the country, ‘low, raking light given off by the grass in the woods’, and ‘evening light reflected, lighter than the sky, in the water along the bank of the Parà River’. For me, the small Polaroid photographs of the Bagno Vignoni, with steam rising from the water in a golden haze, are almost as affecting as the slowly moving images in the film Tarkovsky’s made there, Nostalghia.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Study of sunlight

I’ve just been to the Sir John Soane Museum to see The Tragic Genius of Joseph Michael Gandy. It is a small exhibition (free entry) prompted by a new Brian Lukacher book, Joseph Gandy: An Architectural Visionary in Georgian England. Here are some links to articles about the exhibition: Christopher Woodward, Deyan Sudjic, Kevin Jackson.

Joseph Gandy, cut away perspective drawing of the Bank of England as a ruin, 1830

Joseph Gandy (1771-1843) is probably most famous for being the first European artist to depict contemporary architecture in the form of future ruins, in his paintings of Soane’s designs for the Bank of England. In focusing on Gandy rather than the work of Soane, the exhibition reveals the latter’s qualities (and defects) as a painter in his own right. Perhaps the most interesting quality of his work is the varied use of light to create atmosphere. Soane called the magical light effects in Gandy’s architectural interiors ‘lumière mysterieuse’, and the exteriors often employ soft warm light that flatters Soane’s designs. The exhibition has a few small landscape watercolour sketches, some of which are exercises in light effects. One of them, for example, a Study of sunlight (March 1827) includes a note describing a parhelion: ‘this Phenomenon was an inverted Iris its colour vivid & Pure’.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Crystal-like rain-screens

‘I think the smoky, sooty surfaces of the walls of most London buildings do not bear close examination, but look beautiful behind the crystal-like rain-screens, which give them lustre.’ This is from Chiang Yee’s The Silent Traveller in London (1938), a travel book in which he sees the city with the eyes and sensibility of a Chinese landscape painter. ‘As I walk, the typical drizzle sometimes accompanied by gusts is blown in my face and brings an indescribable feeling…’ Reading this kind of thing almost makes the dismal spring weather acceptable: it’s possible to see beyond the wet wind stinging your face and sapping your energy and appreciate the city as if walking inside a misty watercolour.

It is not just the rain that brings Chiang Yee pleasure. He says ‘I have enjoyed the London fog in many circumstances.’ On one occasion a bemused Londoner tries to assure Chiang that he would be wasting a shilling to look at the view from Westminster Cathedral on a foggy day, but the ‘silent traveller’ makes the ascent anyway. From the top of the tower he looks out on a sea of mist, feeling as if he is in heaven, far away from the street and its traffic. He quotes an anecdote from Lin Yutang’s book The Importance of Living (1937) in which an American lady is taken to the hills of Hangchow to ‘see nothing’. As they climb she asks “what is there?” and is reassured that there are wonderful sights at the top. ‘Finally they reached the summit. All about them was an expanse of mists and fogs, with the outline of distant hills barely visible on the horizon.’

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The spring of Khosrow

Looking at images of a carpet at Sacramento Airport by Seyed Alavi, with its design showing satellite views of the Sacremento River, reminded me that one of the most famous of all carpets was made to illustrate a landscape. This was The Spring of Khosrow, a vast silk Persian carpet (84 x 35ft) depicting a royal garden. According to Penelope Hobhouse ( in The History of Gardening), it “used golden threads to represent the earth, shimmering crystal for the rills, and pearls for the gravel paths. Fruit trees in the geometric plots had trunks and branches shaped in silver and gold with precious stones representing flowers and fruit.”  It was also known as The Winter Carpet because it could be used when the weather was too bad to experience real gardens.  Sadly in 637, when the invading Arab army found the carpet at Ctesiphon, they cut it up and divided the pieces among themselves. However, the tradition of depicting gardens on Persian carpets has continued.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The black rocks of Brittany

In The Franklin’s Tale Chaucer describes the sadness of Dorigen as she stands on the high cliffs of Brittany looking out at the ships, thinking about her husband who has left her to win renown in England. The sight of the black rocks reminds her of the dangers of such a journey:

But whan she saugh the reisly rokkes blake,
For verray feere, so wolde hir herte quake
That on hire feet she myghte hir noght sustene.
Thanne wolde she sitte adoun upon the grene,
And pitously into the see biholde…

She cannot understand why God created such a beak, treacherous landscape and concludes

“… wolde God, that alle thise rokkes blake,
Were sonken into helle for his sake!
Thise rokkes sleen myn herte for the feere!”
Thus wolde she seyn, with many a pitous teere.
Hir freendes sawe that it was no disport
To romen by the see, but disconfort,
And shopen for to pleyen somwher elles;
They leden hir by ryveres and by welles,
And eek in othere places delitables.

So she avoids the black rocks in favour of more pleasant places, but she cannot forget them, and when a suitor, Aurelius, declares his love for her, the faithful Dorigen dismisses his attentions with a comment that he would have to destroy the coastal rocks before she could be his. Dorigen is then reunited with her husband, but in the meantime Aurelius has found a magus who can help cast a spell to create the illusion of a changed landscape. Dorigen is horrified when she sees that the rocks have disappeared, but eventually all ends well, with Aurelius accepting that Dorigen truly loves her husband and releasing her from the pledge.

Real and illusionary landscapes of Brittany play a central role in this beautiful story. The image of Dorigen standing on the headland seems to come from the Romantic period, but her attitude to the black rocks reflects a very pre-Romantic distrust of such dangerous landforms, whose very appearance suggests that they would be better “sonken into helle”.

Edward Burne-Jones, Dorigen of Bretagne longing for the safe return of her husband, 1871

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tree Mountain

Greenmuseum is a virtual space for environmental art with a lot of useful material. Among the featured artists is Agnes Denes, who is probably still best known for ploughing two acres of Manhattan with wheat in her 1982 work Wheatfield – A Confrontation. A year later she designed Tree Mountain-Proposal for a Forest, a work that remained conceptual until the Finnish government announced at the 1992 Earth Summit that it would build the mountain. It would include 11,000 trees, planted by volunteers from around the world. Construction was finished in 1996, but of course the work continues to change: the site is legally protected for four hundred years. Each tree is owned by the person who planted it and their descendents, which means that ownership of an art work is also custodianship of nature. Whilst the trees will outlive their current owners and change hands, the forest itself cannot be owned by anyone. Images from the construction of Tree Mountain are available here and there are more recent photographs of the project illustrating a short essay by Agnes Denes, ‘What it Means to Plant a Forest’.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Clear breeze and bright moon

The cycle of the seasons is celebrated in The Angler’s Calendar (1651), forty songs by the Korean sijo poet Yun Sondo (1587-1671). The spring section begins in early morning with fog on the stream and sunlight illuminating the black hills. The fisherman delights in the cries of cuckoos and the sight of blue willows on the riverbank and peach blossoms floating on the water. These petals remind him of the Chinese story of the Peach Blossom Spring, far away from earthly cares. This theme of joy and escape is maintained to the end of the poem, where winter’s clouds screen the poet from the world and roaring waves drown out its sounds.

Another evocation of spring in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry is In Praise of Spring by Chong Kugin (1401-1481), translated by Peter M. Lee. Here again, petals on a stream suggest to the poet that he is near the source of the Peach Blossom Spring. He climbs between the pine trees to a hilltop and surveys the landscape of scattered villages, with mist glowing in the sunlight and spring colours covering the fields. Although he is without fame and rank, the poet is happy to have friends in “the clear breeze and bright moon.”

Monday, April 03, 2006

April at the Chateau of Dourdan


In the Limbourg Brothers’ Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry, April (above) is symbolised by a newly betrothed couple standing in a green landscape, with the Duc’s chateau of Dourdan dominating the background. March also features a castle, Lusignan, but the foreground is taken up with agricultural work: sowing and ploughing fields. In contrast April seems to convey the delights of spring - full of pleasure and hope for the future. Two maidens are picking flowers. The trees are in full leaf and new blossoms are visible in the orchard.

The miniatures were painted by the Limbourgs in 1413-16 and completed later by Jean Colombe. There are landscape elements in every month, ranging from February’s scene of winter snow to November’s detailed view of ploughing in fields near the Louvre. However the Hours also include many other illustrations of scenes from the Bible and these too display an interest in landscape: for example a plan of Rome, the Annunciation to the Shepherds in the hills near Bethlehem, and an unusual night scene at Gethsemane. Sadly the Limbourgs were not able to paint the Flight into Egypt, always a stimulating subject for landscape painters, and so it was left to Jean Colombe to execute this particular miniature.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fallen blossom

Spring seems at last to be with us. Here are twenty landscape-related season words (kigo) that are traditionally used in Japanese poetry set during the spring:

hibari - skylarks
kasumi – the springtime haze
kawazu – frogs
kigan – departing geese
ko no me – tree buds
oborozuki – hazy moon
ryuujo – willow fluff
saezuri – the twittering of birds
sakura - cherry blossoms
shirauo - whitbait
shunchoo – spring tide
shundei – spring mud
shunkoo – spring light
shunran – spring orchid
tanemaki – sowing seed
tsumikusa – herb gathering
uguisu - the bush warbler
ume - plum blossom
wasurejimo – last frost
zansetsu – lingering snow


For more kigo see the list of 500 Essential Season Words on the Renku Home site. There is a nice spring haiku by Arakida Moritake (1473-1549) in which he sees a fallen blossom returning to the bough, only to realise it is a butterfly:

rakka eda ni / kaeru to mireba / kocho kana