Miscellaneous Notes on Waka
By Drinking Gourd
(Motokichi Inoue, Meishu-sama's personal secretary)
In modern times, waka (gJapanese songh) has come to be called tanka (gshort songh), and depictions of nature and human sentiment seem to be the subjects of composition. gShort songsh are beautiful expressions of thought, a picture described with letters, and it could be said that the gshort songh is the spiritual body of a picture. Meishu-sama has named a collection of the gshort songsh he composed throughout the years, Landscapes (Yama to Mizu) [literally, gmountain and water,h whose two ideograms form the compound that means glandscapeh], which has been published as a treasury for us. In this book, aspects of the pictorial beauty of Mother Nature are depicted in forceful beauty with spirit of language that moves the soul. The book was probably named Landscapes with the idea that the soul of its poems would be put into three-dimensional form in the construction of the gardens at Hakone and Atami.
Each time I read from this anthology, I am enveloped in the pleasant sensation of having a free rein in paradise. Many are the instances in which my tears flow as I am struck with beautiful emotion, stronger than that from a dream or from a famous painting. This anthology truly demonstrates the art of the gshort songh at its highest level, and in stature and refinement of character it should be considered the ultimate of truth, virtue, and beauty, serene yet forceful beauty of the spirit of language. Comparison with the level of works of the great poets either of antiquity or of modern times is impossible.
I feel that the sacred poems we recite at the paradise on earth services and at the grand seasonal services have these days reached a level loftier in sacredness than those that were composed even two or three years ago.
As being conveyed without obstruction from that belonging to the highest places, we worship these poems as the voice of God that has been bestowed upon us. We are able to sense that through these poems we can climb to the higher levels of divinity.
The poems proclaim in terms easy for all to comprehend with clarity like a white light yet with a gentle rhythm matters that are thought to be most difficult to understand and keys that resolve the ignorance of the truth along with the mystery of the three worlds. Nothing but the beauty of mysteriousness and delicacy is there to describe the poems that depict nature. If this is not an illumination into the realms of the highest of divine wisdom in the world, what is it?
In Meishu-samafs poems, the most importance is placed on the power of language and its tone. The beauty of the power of language as in an exquisite fine jewel, accompanied by a rhythm that expresses great love, creates a fine, pleasant feeling that beckons the soul to heaven. Because waka poetry is an art of the spirit of language, it could be said that the power of language and its tone must be called its very life. At this point a taste of indescribable benefit cleanses, providing powerful aspiration that surpasses even a million words. This tone is what is called rhythm, and this rhythm is a fundamental of all art, the way of all things in the universe. Meishu-sama has taught us that the tone in waka poetry is the rhythm that is at the heart of the seasons as they change in Mother Nature, from winter to spring, to summer and to autumn, which deserves full expression in song. The sense that the sublimity of Meishu-samafs poetry will reverberate throughout the world eternally without limit is indeed because of the limitless height of its power of language and tone.
In gshort songsh composed recently, the essential power of language and tone is completely ignored, and importance is placed only on technique, with few elements to move the heart. Well-known poets particularly like to use unfathomable phrases from times out of tune with the present age that so completely dominate the poem that poetic intent cannot be understood. In tone as well, the order of nature is confused, summer becoming winter becoming autumn, and reading such poetry often instills an unpleasant feeling.
There are legends that in ancient times, master poets were able to cause a much-needed rain to fall in the early morning simply by composing and reciting one poem, and these accounts are probably not completely baseless in fact. Presumably the power of the language moved the spirit of a dragon to make it rain, and because the pure spirit of the love and sincerity of a person connects to divine will, I am sure it must be because the love and sincerity becomes tone which becomes a poem that manifests a great amount of power.
I have heard that well-known poets may compose only two or three poems a month, but Meishu-sama, whether gosanka\that is, poems for chanting in services\or poems of the path, emotional or scenic lyrics, or verses of love, regardless of type, never strains to compose, no matter how excellent the poems turn out to be. He enjoys composing poems, dictating them to be written down by others, and says that he can compose any number of poems when he wants. Whether in number or in speed, the freedom and flexibility of his composition is astonishing. A few months before the legal difficulties began, the forty-six poem set titled gThe Great Purificationh was dictated within an hour, as silk coming out of a silkwormfs mouth. This means that each poem took an average of one minute three seconds to compose, truly astonishing although not unlike the usual superhuman tasks he daily performs for Godfs cause. Though Meishu-sama composes swiftly, his poetry does not suffer in quality and in no instance does it lack in taste or grace, whether he is vividly depicting the frightfulness of the end of the world or the joy at the construction of the new age and the appearance of the savior. Even now, these poems project an impression replete of strength.
During the period when Godfs work was conducted under the name of the Japan Kannon Society, Meishu-sama was extremely busy and poems for services were composed even during the time right before the services were to begin. It was during this period that he composed the set of some fifteen poems titled gLord of Powerh [sic, gLord of Lighth] while talking with guests and listening to the radio. I vividly remember the irresistible feeling of mysteriousness as I saw how the poems seemed to take form so suddenly. Prince Shotoku is said to have been able to perform several tasks at the same time, and in response to the occasion Meishu-sama also can easily attend to several matters.
Eikô, Issue 260, June 9, 1954
translated by cynndd