Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3: More Snow

"A dusting of snow." That was today's forecast. Yet a couple of inches of light fluffy snow had accumulated on my car before I'd even left for work. Snow fell all day and it's still falling. Huge flakes drifted in mesmerizing three-dimensional flurries. I hardly needed a shovel to clear the driveway tonight--I might have just swept the driveway clear with a big broom. Though deep, such snow feels harmless, even comforting, softening the landscape. Once again the street grit, frozen sludge, and fallen branches are hidden from sight. All is fresh and pure again.

Wanting to honor the snow, it seemed appropriate to consult my favorite book The Tale of Genji, the complex emotional narrative of which is advanced by tanka--five-line, 31-syllable poems (the first three lines of which eventually evolved into haiku). The characters regularly communicate via such poems, which convey many layers of meaning through evocative word play. In addition to the words themselves, poems were also judged by the type and color of the paper they were written on, the handwriting of the poet, the way the paper was folded, and what type of flower or branch the poem was attached to. This was a culture that valued the poetic aesthetic to an extreme.

For example, the hero Prince Genji must reply to an invitation by the emperor to go hunting in the snowy mountains. He doesn't want to go because he's mooning over a pretty young woman, so he sends his regrets with a flattering poem:

The falling of snow
in fine weather is splendid,
as magnificent
as jewels on the palanquin
of the finest emperor.

translated by Jane Reichhold with Hatsue Kawamura

In response the emperor writes his own poem about the day's hunting and sends it to Genji with a brace of pheasants. And his poem triggered my own:

I dreamed three pheasants
sat on the snowy feeder--
gems set in crystal.

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