100 Poems of Chanoyu 6-10





When you place and part

from your objets d’art

The feeling should be

like parting from your lover - 

tender longing for the other



nani nitemo okitsuke kaeru tebanare wa, koishiki hito ni wakaruru to shire









This is about as close as we get to love poetry out of all of the poems in the collection. Love is not expressed explicitly in chanoyu literature, but I think the art of chanoyu would benefit from exploring this emotion more as a part of practice. Rikyu, after all, held that the following waka poem was one of the foremost examples of the wabi mind-state: 


To those who await only the cherry blossoms,

Show them the spring in grassy patches amid the snow of a mountain village.



Hana o nomi matsuran hito ni yamazato no yukima no kusa no haru o misebaya.


In this poem, ‘cherry blossoms’ carries the double meaning of ‘one’s lover’. The rich layers of meaning in these short lines makes it a highly successful poem. A single meaning always escapes us, making it a kind of kōan for our tea practice. One of the attractions of the poem for Rikyu may have been the way it elucidates the wabi mind by seeing profundity in the mundane. 


Philosopher Richard Wollheim (1923-2003) discussed a type of visual experience called ‘seeing-in’. When we look at something, we have a two-fold experience of seeing the object and seeing a representation. For example, when we look at a rock face we often perform an imaginative act of seeing a human face in the rocks. In Iceland there are many rock formations said to be trolls who froze in the light of sunrise. Wolheim called this type of seeing ‘seeing-in’. The waka poem is a sophisticated example of seeing-in. From our longing, we see the beauty of cherry blossoms in the sprigs of grass appearing through the snow. This triggers an emotional response akin to the feelings one experiences when a period away from one’s lover will soon end - the melting snow allowing one to leave their mountain village and reunite with their love. The experience of seeing-in therefore nurtures a type of feeling-in as well. By seeing the natural world as metaphorically receptive to our emotional lives, we cultivate a capacity to feel profundity in things we would usually glance over. Here we are at the heart of wabi.


When we recognise the emotional complexity of our love life can be triggered by our experience of the natural world, a new kind of connection with nature is born in us. Thich Nhat Hanh once said exactly the same thing, except in reverse: “When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.” Both are angles of the same truth that is made possible by our inter-being with the natural world. 


A flower exists only in a state of inter-being with all of nature. It is made up of elements such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all of these elements, there would be no flower left. A flower therefore cannot exist alone. Humans are like this too. We are made up of the Earth, water, sunlight, the tea we drank this morning and the genes of our ancestors. We sustain and are sustained by this inter-being. In a relationship, if we can see the nature of inter-being flowing through us and the other person, we can see that our love is the other person’s love, the other person’s love is our love, and that love ultimately transcends us both.


When we place and part from our objets d’art in the tea room, we can think of our utensils as tufts of grass in melting snow. As our hand retreats, it glides through the air like when we quietly lower our hand from seeing off our lover, our eyes still fixed into the distance. As we reach for and touch our utensils again, our connection with nature is born anew, again and again throughout the temae. The silent string of these moments is a poem of love. 


- Adam Sōmu Wojciński, 2018

The 100 Poems of Chanoyu - English waka version (Japanese: 茶湯百首 Chayu Hyakushu, also known as 利休百首 Rikyū Hyakushu)


The above poem, passage and calligraphy image are taken from my translation project on Patreon. This is one of the poems from July 2018. For August I will be publishing translations, commentary and calligraphy of the next five poems of the 100 Poems of Chanoyu, among the other concurrent translations projects on my Patreon. 


The original Japanese language 100 Poems of Chanoyu (also known as the Rikyu Hyakushu) are composed in a poetry style known as ‘waka' or ‘tanka’. Waka poems limit the poet to 31 syllables, with the syllables arranged in five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables to each respective line. To illustrate:


何にても  /  nani nitemo (5)

置き付けかへる  /  okitsuke kaeru (7)

手離れは  /  tebanare wa (5)

恋しき人に  /  koishiki hito ni (7)

わかるると知れ  /  wakaruru to shire (7)


When you place and part

from your objets d’art

The feeling should be

like parting from your lover - 

tender longing for the other


This format makes the poems mnemonic devices for the fundamental philosophy and practical teachings of chanoyu. At the time of Jōō, Rikyū, Oribe, etc., it was forbidden to take or refer to notes in the tearoom during practice. This is still so today for some teachers. Creating rhythmic poems capturing the fundamental teachings of chanoyu enabled the student to recall the teachings at crucial moments during practice. In this form, the teachings are also readily transmittable to future generations. The 100 Poems of Chanoyu stands as proof of this method. More than any other manuscript from the formation period of chanoyu, the hundred poems is the most widely used text, still employed today by teachers and students across all schools of chanoyu.  


In English translations of the poems, a meaning-based approach has been employed to relay their wisdom. This translation attempts to be the first English translation that accords to the rhythmical pattern of 31 syllables. The translations are all in the ‘waka’ style. With this approach I hope the English poems will be as readily committed to memory and as useful in people’s practice as the Japanese originals were for masters like Jōō, Rikyū, Oribe, Sōko and Enshū.  


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