Sunday, May 07, 2006

Views of Suma

Utagawa Hiroshige, The Beach at Suma, 1853

In the preface to his book on Japanese Linked Verse Earl Miner discusses the way Japanese poems are affective - responses in words to something moving – and that recipients of poems would in turn be moved by the way these emotions had been expressed. The same principle applies to landscape paintings. For example, in The Tale of Genji, the sketches and poetic descriptions Genji made during his exile in Suma move Prince Hotaru almost to tears. Miner relates this affective-expressive mode to two terms: 
‘”kokoro” means heart, mind, or spirit – the human capacity to be affected and to understand. “Kotoba” means words, languages, signs, or techniques – the human capacity to make known to others what has been gained by kokoro… Not to possess kokoro was to be barbarian, worse than animals. The warbler among plum blossoms, the frog in summer waters, the stag crying for a mate in autumn – all were poets. All gave voice to experience. Thus being moved and being led to expression defined poetic activity. In addition these animal singers and criers moved one to respond in poetry, just as would the poem of a friend.’
So it is not simply that landscape views provoke an emotional response; the possessor of kokoro will literally be spoken to by the natural world.

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