it changes color
in this world,
of the human heart.
—Ono no Komachi, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani, from The Ink Dark Moon
Rengay, as with haiku, is a poetic means of catching the colours of the heart. With both haiku and rengay, we can record daily experiences as they pass by—and so these moments will not pass us by. The goal with each verse in a rengay can therefore be to capture the essence of an object or experience, observed in either nature or human nature—a matter of tuning in to the cosmos and what it has to offer us.
Indeed, one of the fundamental principles in the art of haiku as practiced by Bashō, its greatest master, was that of following zōka, or “the way of the cosmos” (according to Haruo Shirane in his book Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998, 260). For Bashō, “the way of art (fūga), the way of the inner spirit (kokoro), and the way of the cosmos (zōka) become inseparable” (Shirane, 260). In 1702, one of Bashō’s disciples, Dohō, compiled the book Sanzōshi. In it, he quotes Bashō as saying “the changes of heaven and earth are the seeds of poetry,” and that “when the color of the heart, of the thoughts and emotions within, becomes the object, the verse is created” (Shirane, 265, 333). Shirane explains that “‘Seeing’ is as much an internal matter, of realizing the zōka within, as it is an external matter. The ‘cherry blossoms’ do not exist by themselves in nature,” but “come into being only when they are ‘seen’ by and fuse with the zōka within the poet” (261). As Thoreau said, it isn’t what we look at that matters, but what we see. The poems in True Colour are, I hope, examples of seeing, or recognizing the myriad details of our lives—indeed, the colours of human existence.
More than this, I hope these poems become experiences themselves. Pablo Picasso once said that “There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.” Likewise, ordinary haiku are experiences transformed into words, but extraordinary haiku are words transformed into experiences. At the very least, I side with Vladimir Nabokov, who said “All colours make me happy, even grey.”
—29 November, 4 December 2014