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Mono no Aware


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sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt

Aeneid I.462 (Virgil)


when the tears arrive

tensely flowing from your eyes

they embrace the void


here there is nothing

once there were so many things

nothing now remains


this cannot be true

your eyes seek here, they dart there

still there is nothing


a feeling of fear

the absence of all objects

emptiness, nothing


from the great window

stripped, denuded of curtains

the outside looks in


in a flower vase

under the tokonoma

three sprigs of blossom


you have never been

this lonely in your life ...

nor quite so happy.



Lacrimae rerum (from that dear old imperial sycophant, Virgil): Aeneas, while crying, says, "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt" as he gazes at one of the murals found in a Carthaginian temple, which depicts battles of the Trojan War and deaths of his friends and countrymen: ... "tears for mortal things (sufferings) touch the soul." ... The burden man has to bear, ever present frailty and suffering, defines the essence of human experience.


Mono no aware (物の哀れ, mono no aware, lit. "the pathos of things"), also translated as "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity of ephemera," is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujo or the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing (which explains why the whole country is so big into cherry blossoms, which are undeniably beautiful but only last about a week). This poem goes off on a slightly different tangent, to "wabi" and "sabi" which is the old, but very closely related (and quite definitely NOT modern) fixation on absence and silence and ... (not brought out in the poem) the studied non-perfection of carefully-made beloved things: so if you like your old teacup or teddy bear from when you were a kid, or insist on wearing that smelly old pullover you had in college then you are closer to the wabi-sabi ideal than the following Wikipedia definition: Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The phrase comes from the two words wabi and sabi. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence (三法印, sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常, mujō).


tatami - Japanese mat flooring, green and pungently aromatic when new, then gradually yellowing with age. All traditional Japanese houses (or rooms within houses) have this flooring, as do temples.


tokonoma - an alcove let into a wall in a traditional Japanese room to allow for a hanging scroll or other decoration, usually fronted with a vase of seasonal blossoms or flowers.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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I echo Dr. Con's enthusiasm. This is an incredibly fine lyrical introspection. And the footnotes are highly useful and greatly appreciated.

I'm fascinated by this concept of "Mono no Aware"; it's a sensibility not unfamiliar, though I've never attempted to express it. In fact, I never even realized such feelings were felt by others or that they even could be articulated.

Though not expressly examined in your poem, "the studied non-perfection of carefully-made beloved things" is a particularly intriguing notion. I liken it to having something world class, the best of something the world has to offer, in any particular era. No matter what it is, in these cases, one can usually look back and remark that today we have better. But one can never say that the technology (be it a camera or a car) or that the art (especially when it comes to recorded music and cinematography) wasn't the best available for the time.

Keeping on in that spirit (unless I misunderstand), it would seem that your teacup example is a representation of sabi:


"It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

From an engineering or design point of view, 'wabi' may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then 'sabi' could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust." -- from WIKI


The teacup and teddy bear are worn. Perhaps they didn't have any imperfections when new. They exhibit "patina or wear," or sabi. But to me, probably more fascinating is the concept of wabi: "This is the best that we, reasonably and efficiently, could do." I offer, as my interpretation of wabi, a song, recorded in 1981, by Canadian rock band RUSH. Near the end of the song, called "Vital Signs," the singer, Geddy Lee, repeats the line "Everybody got to elevate from the norm." At one point, he actually says, "Everybody got to evelate from the norm"!

Okay, perhaps my example isn't pure: I really don't know if the usage was intentional, or, if not, why the artists left it. They weren't limited by the technology: they could have simply made another recording. The point is, it's a world class song by world class musicians and a world class recording. This one noticeable anomaly doesn't change that fact, rather (in my opinion) it adds character to the work. To me, it is wabi, and there's something beautiful, something human, about wabi.

When creating our own works of art, our poems, when do we stop and consider the works "done"? Certainly, we could revise them indefinitely, but that would not be reasonable, practical, or efficient. One of my favorite poets, James Wright, states in THIS interview that "I rewrite my own poems so often that I sometimes get mixed up about which version was finally published. I don't want to let a poem go until I think I've got it honed down just to what it should be, and that involves all sorts of weird problems. One of them is that you overwrite it. You've got to know when to stop. Bach is the greatest of the human composers, but in my opinion Mozart is an angel. And one thing that makes him angelic is that he knows exactly when to stop. He knows when to shut up. And in doing that he gives you your own song."

Sometimes when I write a poem, I spot an imperfection, a weaker line or part. Yet, somehow, the poem seems complete, and I leave it. Wabi? I don't know. But I've digressed ... Sorry for that. You've expressed the "feeling of fear," "the absence of all objects," most masterfully:


you have never been
this lonely in your life ...
nor quite so happy.


Thank you for the poem and for inspiring me to contemplate and to write.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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I was absolutely fascinated, Tony, by your comments and musings (and the examples you came up with!) on this topic of wabi and sabi. I agree that most of us do harbour a sense of impermanence and transience (particularly as we get older!) and we do have an affection for old battered things that have sturdily survived the ravages of time and fashion -- without actually putting a name to such feelings. The Japanese created an aesthetic around them which went to the heart of their traditional high culture, although there is little sign of it today! The modern aesthetic seems to be obsessed with bright and shiny objects, and lots of them, where the word "new" has become a synonym for "better". Not all people agree, of course, but they are fighting an uphill battle against the almost universal acceptance of consumerism.


I was also quite tickled to see that a poem of mine could get you going on such a long and interesting outpouring of your thoughts. I must do this more often! :icon_cool:



Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Hi Brendan, This is so different than your usual poems. It is very Japanese. From the frame of 5-7-5 stanzas, the absense of caps, the sparity of words, the simplicity of the images, all contribute to this feeling... I was fascinated by the fluidity of the rhythm despite the 5/7/5 frame that often comes off choppy.


I was very interested in your footnotes. wabi - sabi in particular. I read somewhere The Japanese see a particular charm in the evidence of old age; to all these signs of age they give the name, saba, which literally means rust of time. Of course I didn't keep the source of that quote and I don't speak Japanese so I am trusting it is correct. sabi / saba are pretty close, did I use the wrong word.


I came across this when researching xiaoshi a subgenre of Chinese poetry from the 1920s. I believe xiaoshi means small poem (shi = poetry and xiao = little, diminutive or small). The xiaoshi should be fragmented with minimal explaination, seemingly unrelated images and little indication of cause and effect. The Chinese are more likely to write in a 4 line frame than the 5//7/5 frame of much Japanese verse.



~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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Brendan, I am impressed by this poem. One of your best ones. I enjoyed reading the poem, the references and I must tell the comments so far. I must tell that Tony, drove me into the wabi / sabi world, after reading this poem.


It is brilliant how this poem sounds. I would say it's more sabi... because of the time, all has been changed.


The sadness in the poem is more than only expressed. I loved the word play, and I'm in love with the last stanza.

This is poem is something what will remain.


I enjoyed a lot, thank you Bren.



The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth - Jean Cocteau

History of Macedonia



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Larsen M. Callirhoe

This is quite alliteration in a small amount of words. I enjoyed the read. Sometimes I wonder if I should get as philosophical in my remarks about other poems as my counter part Tony does. us clever of words will be the only ones that last the test of times along with maybe a 100 artist every life time and and only a few musicians are remembered. Look how fast the first one of rock has died out and people listed to new stuff before they listen to old stuff. Modern day Jesus Christ we are. I don't say that lightly.



Larsen M. Callirhoe

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