haikaiTALKS: Japanese aesthetics - a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree
host: Kala Ramesh
9th September 2023
Japanese aesthetics: mono-no-aware
Pronounced as a-waa-re (like in Hindi.)
We are repeating this page, for I feel we need two weeks and more to assimilate and try out various ways of understanding this beautiful concept.
Yeah! Another exciting week ahead!!
Mono no aware: the Pathos of Things
The meaning of the phrase mono no aware is complex and has changed over time, but it basically refers to a “pathos” (aware) of “things” (mono), deriving from their transience. In the classic anthology of Japanese poetry from the eighth century, Manyōshū, the feeling of aware is typically triggered by the plaintive calls of birds or other animals. It also plays a major role in the world’s first novel, Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), from the early eleventh century. The somewhat later Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike Clan) begins with these famous lines, which clearly show impermanence as the basis for the feeling of mono no aware:
The sound of the Gion shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sōla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind. (McCullough 1988).
And here is Kenkō on the link between impermanence and beauty: “If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty” (Keene, 7). The acceptance and celebration of impermanence goes beyond all morbidity, and enables full enjoyment of life:
How is it possible for men not to rejoice each day over the pleasure of being alive? Foolish men, forgetting this pleasure, laboriously seek others; forgetting the wealth they possess, they risk their lives in their greed for new wealth. But their desires are never satisfied. While they live they do not rejoice in life, but, when faced with death, they fear it—what could be more illogical? (Keene, 79).
Insofar as we don’t rejoice in life we fail to appreciate the pathos of the things with which we share our lives. For most of us, some of these things, impermanent as they are, will outlast us—and especially if they have been loved they will become sad things: “It is sad to think that a man’s familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain long after he is gone” (Keene, 30).
The most frequently cited example of mono no aware in contemporary Japan is the traditional love of cherry blossoms, as manifested by the huge crowds of people that go out every year to view (and picnic under) the cherry trees. The blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees are intrinsically no more beautiful than those of, say, the pear or the apple tree: they are more highly valued because of their transience since they usually begin to fall within a week of their first appearance. It is precisely the evanescence of their beauty that evokes the wistful feeling of mono no aware in the viewer.
Notes taken from Britannica and other sources.
Keiko Izawa has this to add:
According to a a Japanese philosopher, Tetsuro Watsuji, Mono no aware is essentially a fundamental longing for eternity in impermanence. It cannot be judged by the intellect or reason, but can only be felt with heart and intuition. One of the most representative symbols is the Japanese cherry blossom. They are beautiful, but fall within 3 to 5 days after blooming.
I have a request and a suggestion to make.
Can you share a haiku that employs mono-no-aware & tell your readers why you liked it and how you understood it?
Example: my poem
a falling blossom ...
the breath between what was
and what will be
Presence Haiku Journal – Issue # 49, Fall 2014
I'll get back with more examples soon.
First post: optional. You search and find a haiku that has mono no aware.
You'll give your reason/s why you think it has this aesthetic nuance. Second post: This will be your first haiku with mono no aware
This will be your second haiku with mono no aware
Please don't post both your poems on the same day. Give a space of 24 hours between your postings.
Please give your feedback on others' commentary and poems too. _()_
Learning from last week:
The notes say: Mono no aware refers to “pathos” (aware) of “things” (mono), deriving from their transience.
If we say - mono no aware is beauty and pathos (the example given is cherry blossoms) then it gets clearer and we know how to understand this nuance and differentiate it from wabi sabi.
Otherwise, it seems like both mono no aware and wabi-sabi are about transience, isn't it?
Does anyone have any views/reviews on this?
- Kala Ramesh
>>>>> The word "sabi" refers to the unique and beautiful changes in what is generally regarded as deterioration, and "wabi" refers to the spirit of accepting and enjoying sabi, and is used as an expression of Japanese unique aesthetic sense.
Accordingly, mono no aware: pathos of things might be partly overlapped with sabi in terms of deterioration with the passage of time, but the different point is that it always entails sadness about impermanence, which we view with our aesthetic sense.
- Keiko Izawa
Adding Linda Papanicolaou's succinctive expression:
I have loved the past two weeks’ prompts about mono no aware. They have totally reset my thinking as I’ve realized that all good shasei haiku have this quality: awareness of the beauty of things coupled with the pathos of knowing that neither the thing observed nor the observer will last.
Have fun! Keep writing and commenting!