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6th Sailing


. . . 6th Sailing . . .

presented by Peter Yovu

How do we write about Nature?

This Sailing honors Robert Spiess, featured in Montage #32. To be thorough about this, I should say it also honors Henry David Thoreau. Here is one of Spiess’ many “speculations on haiku”:

“Haiku poets should give full consideration to Thoreau’s observation: ‘How much is written about nature as somebody has portrayed her, how little about Nature as she is, and chiefly concerns us.’”

“Full consideration” of this observation will undoubtedly open up numerous questions, not only about the nature of Nature, but also, of course, about the role of the haiku poet in portraying “her”. (Interesting that Thoreau anthropomorphizes Nature, and yes I realize it was, and to some extent still is, customary to do so. I’ll continue in that fashion to maintain his tone).

One question: is it possible to portray Nature “as she is”?

Another: what is it about Nature, nearly 150 years after Thoreau’s death, that “chiefly concerns” you, and how is this reflected in, and engaged by haiku?

And one last, prompted by a word I used twice above: do we portray Nature, write about her, or do we seek, bridging the gap between Nature and human nature, to write as or perhaps through her? Is there a gap?

I realize this is an enormous and possibly daunting matter, but I trust you will find your own question, your own exploration. As with the previous Sailing, I would strongly encourage you to post poems which you feel somehow embody this consideration of “Nature as she is” and not “as somebody has portrayed her”. Perhaps something from Spiess himself, or something from Thoreau.

Sails is a section of troutswirl that is devoted to presenting questions for discussion and debate on the nature and possibilities of haiku. Sails is overseen by Peter Yovu. For an introduction to this section, see Sails.

This Post Has 101 Comments

  1. Cherie, your post triggers something I’ve been thinking about in regards to Allan’s earlier comments about the need to make distinctions between things we call “Nature”, and Lorin’s reminder of how the naming of things positions us.

    I’ve been reading Alain de Bottan’s The Art of Travel.
    In a lovely essay called On the Sublime, he recalls Edward Burke’s thoughts on the matter–that many landscapes are beautiful, but only some are sublime.
    That the sublime landscapehas to do with making us feel small, and even weak, in its presence.
    This feeling of smallness is distinctly different than the smallness we may feel plenty enough in the world of humans–one that is more often about humiliation or having our wishes frustrated by others’ behaviors .

    “Sublime landscapes do not therefore introduce us to our inadequacy; rather, to touch on the crux of their appeal, they allow us to conceive of a familiar inadequacy in a new and more helpful way. Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.”

    Maybe the Coppenhagen climate summit should be held in the middle of the Sinai desert.


    Index finger
    in the galaxy

    Tomita Takuya
    translated by Keiji Minato

  2. wilderness park
    i pitch a tent
    on the outskirts
    of my life

    Ed Markowski (Simply Haiku, Winter 09)

  3. drawing from nature…or drawing form nature… you have to learn how to read a drawing before you can make a judgment…sometimes the words are not what they seem to mean to the reader? How can that be? So often I hear judgments about haiku that seem to miss the point entirely.
    It seems to me that there are so many ways of addressing haiku that I have to learn to read things in many ways. But since I come to haiku wordless…in the first place…

  4. Your discussion is beautifully written, Peter, and with great understanding. I have to say that my experience is in accordance with my belief. Saying this, however, does not mean that I don’t, like yourself and everyone else, experience the world as being there, as present as fact, etc., on occasion. However, once upon a time, when i was young, the sea was the sea and the sand was the sand and I was happy. Having grown older-too old, I’m afraid- I more often experience things as ideas. Things that once had connotative and emotional joy associated with them, became ideas and no longer held the same simplicity of being they once had.
    It is not a release, Peter, to realize that the things that once brought me such happiness were really associated with a sense of belonging-not just to the “physical” world,l but to the world of human beings. I no longer have that joy of experience. The experiences of the body are experienced as mind events.
    And, I can’t help but recognize that binary opposition, the methodology of mind, is at the essence of our society and everything in it. We understand by discrete differences-this is how we recognize letter and words-and this is how we conduct all our activiites-sporting events, politics, sexuality, racial relationships,international relationships.
    It is a pity that the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, who proposed that rather than binary opposition language and thought operated on a continium, is not more emphasized. Perhaps he is; I’ve been out of the intellectual community for decades and have not kept up with philosophy and language theory.
    Perhaps your distinction (and again differentiation is the modus operandi of thought) of eternity and time (or, diachronic and syndronic, which are the languaget terms for these differences) is appropos and points to the bridge I was earlier discussing.
    Lorin Ford’s quotation from the Tao and Allan Burns’ agreement that pre-existing “reality” has no categorical reality are in keeping with what you are saying and I am content to leave it at that.
    All the best to you and your life and experience and poetry.

  5. Jack– it’s difficult to explore this without knowing if you speak from experience or from belief. When I read someone like Nisargadatta Maharaj or J. Krishnamurti (for many years I was an ardent student) I feel great affinity and a wish sometimes to dissolve into…– choose your word. But wish is not the same as actuality and I have to be mindful of the kind of precocity that wants to jump out of my actual experience into a preferred state, or belief.

    It may not be clear from what I say, which can have passionate presence I suppose, but I don’t intend to take a position– I have nothing to defend, or rather, when I do, I want to know about it. My experience, though sometimes it abandons me, is that I am both eternity and the productions of time with which it is in love. For the most part it seems to be the latter which want to come out and play, and which need to be explored and understood in order for the former to know itself more clearly.

    Jack, if you have experienced the freedom which your words point to, I bow to you. If you speak from belief, I bow to you also, and wish that through it, you come to freedom.

    I don’t think I can say anything more.

  6. I’m very happy to have had the chance to speak to you all on the subject of nature and mind. I’m particularly pleased to have had the valuable insights offered by Allan and Lorin on the subject. Both have given me a good deal to think about.
    Now, to some good haiku.

  7. Here is a bridge…found it over on ‘virals’:

    a deep gorge . . .
    some of the silence
    is me

    — John Stevenson

    Having, for ‘useful’ and survival and ‘progress’ purposes, considered ourselves separate from ‘Nature’ (in Allan’s sense) for so long, are we (perhaps not too soon, considering the very real ‘eco-system’ problems that Allan refers to) becoming ‘adult’ enough to discover that we are of it, again? Approach that, not through abstractions or mysticism, but as a felt, experienced thing?

    I read this haiku of John Stevenson’s as a real and personal discovery. The season is not important here. The depth oif the gorge is. (I thought of gorges in the South Island of New Zealand, but it doesn’t matter where) Such a small thing, ‘me’, confronted with that depth, coldness and silence(even in Summer) but to find oneself, not completely alienated, not completely overwhelmed, not dominant, but part of it…’some of the silence’… not able to provide commentary or definition but to respect where language/ naming ends and to say that, is to discover (again?) something of mystery of our being?

    ok, I realise someone will pooh-pooh me for saying mystery; 🙂 I don’t know how other to put it.


  8. ‘. . .but irrefutable evidence shows that the things themselves existed before they were perceived and named.’ Allan

    ‘Things can exist in such a way that they do not exist until they are known.’ Jack

    I don’t think there is any real conflict here. It seems to me that it’s just a matter of holding both viewpoints simultaneously, or switching quickly between the two.

    ‘Heaven and Earth
    begin in the unnamed:
    name’s the mother
    of the ten thousand things’

    Tao Te Ching, rendition by Ursula le Guin

    ‘Absent is the name for sky and land’s first life.
    Present for the mother of all ten thousand things’

    Dao De Jing, translation by Moss Roberts

    ‘Things as they are’ exist, but once named/known by a knower/namer they are not ‘as they are’, but something in relation to a knower/namer. So we have two things, a knower/namer and a named/known thing. Before or ‘outside’ that knower/known split, there are not two things.

    ‘I’ began when I formed the idea/perception of ‘not-I’. Then I made distinctions within the ‘not-I’ and gradually learnt to name some of them ‘correctly’ according to my kind.

    . . .everything with four legs was ‘dog’ for a while…dogs grazing in the paddocks, men riding dogs, etc 😉 I was very pleased about language and spotting dogs everywhere. There are many things, especially concepts, that I still don’t know the correct names for.


  9. “Forty thousand years” (in the Dickson), though, isn’t visual information–regardless of one’s attitude toward that. There are depths one could plumb: the contrast between living, flying bird and motionless stone; natural history (the process of fossilization, what birds were like back in the day); the depth of time–of four hundred centuries of stillness; life’s transience, mutability, haphazard traces. I find it gives me more to contemplate than a lot of things I’ve read.

    Jack Galmitz: In the spirit of your bridge, I agree language is needed in order to assign what you call a “categorical existence” to things. Anyway, welcome to the “virtual party”, where you’ll find enthusiasms, sideswipes, open debate, volunteer work, “subtle” allusions, and more.

  10. Perhaps, there is a bridge between what we are each saying.
    Let’s say space existed before an awareness of it. Yet, it had no categorical existence, no essence or identity, until it was named or known.
    Things can exist in such a way that they do not exist until they are known.

  11. I agree with you that the nameless and quality-less “existed” before consciousness. However, it did not exist as such until there was consciousness to reflect it. There were no discrete entities, nor could there be, before the mechanism by which they come into existence existed. To differentiate planets, stars, solar systems, organisms, etc., is the methodology of consciousness and language.
    Yes to develop eyes there has to be light and objects of site; yet, without eyes and consciousness there is no light or objects of site. Everything you name and give in sequence is a categorical existence and did not have any categorical existence before the organ (mind, language, consciousness) of its making came into being.
    In other words, without the appropriate concepts to differentiate things, the things you say existed (the light of a star shining for millions of years) could not have any qualities and therefore for all intents and purposes did not exist.

    1. somewhere along the line in this discussion i was reminded of poems by Robert Grenier. i guess i started thinking about nature and language (the nature of language/language as nature) and the words we choose to create poems, and how we put them together. the nature of this. the nature of language. to create hai/ku (which are built of words)—the words chosen to make sense of things and the way images and feelings come to us, or we come to them.

      what i dig about Grenier’s work is the playfulness of language as well as the sense of openness for the reader he creates (something i feel is missing far too often in so many english haiku: weak cuts/kire; and, therefore, no ma [sense of “betweenness” or suspension]). and how he attempts to put into words the way things “happen”/occur to him and his mind/consciousness; or, what goes on in his mind with language. it’s very stream-of-consciousness—and in that sense a way of presenting things as they are (a kind of objectivism of language maybe), or how they feel in the mind, in a really straightforward, minimal way (which also creates a sense of openness, and an invitation to partake in the poem and complete it on our own, to complete the circle). they’re not just pictures/photographs of things (like the Dickson piece mentioned about the fossil, which I think would have been better left as a fossil for people to look at). they don’t, basically, say everything for us. there’s something raw and honest about the way Grenier writes. and i find that much more natural. or at least as an attempt at trying to convey the way our nature works—how words, and groups of words, come to us. how language forms. he creates suspension, betweenness, openness, but also a bit of awkwardness. the awkwardness and the jarring and the disjunction and the bits of confusion create the openness and spaces (for me). with an element of play. there’s a harsh, raw reality in that (a kind of realistic objectivism; instead of things though it’s the words and the language as it comes that are real). and it brings to me more of a sense of nature and realism than just taking a photo, or painting a pretty picture (without an explicit “I”) with words. and doing something with them. he creates a reality of both what he sees, as well as what’s going on mentally/consciously, realistically, with language. he lets the messiness in. the fun. the results, i think, pack punches that resonate.

      a few examples from his Sentences:

      at to smooth the walls around


      can’t have a mosquito


      south on Monday and sleep over


      clouds interested in some adequacy


      now he’s

      behind a



      except the swing bumped by the dog in passing


      crater in

      over the

      sea Meyer


      once those clouds moving toward the horizon


      call I’ll

      dark it

      place back

      in trees


      if you take a look at that link above, many of the poems might remind one of John Martone’s work.

      anyhoo, a recording of Robert Grenier speaking at Naropa University in 1992 recently popped up on Silliman’s Blog. the sound ain’t so hot, but the talk is great and engaging and titled “Drawing from Nature”

      about half way through, he changes the lecture’s title to “Drawing Form Nature”

  12. “the origin of space/time is coincident with consciousness/language/mind”

    Here’s the thing, though: Unless you want to reject the findings of modern physics/ astronomy/ cosmology, the origin of spacetime in this universe was the Big Bang, approx. 13.7 billion yrs ago. It took quite a long time, obviously, to get from there to human consciousness, and a great deal happened in the meantime, such as the formation of stars and planets and galaxies and so on, all of which involved spacetime even when no one was there to observe it.

    In fact, it takes a lot of spacetime to arrive at organisms, and organisms first need to evolve sensory organs before they can arrive at consciousness of their surroundings (much less language).

    On Earth, organisms eventually arose who “learned” to exploit preexisting information in the environment for its survival value. If a creature evolves eyes (and they’ve evolved independently 50+ times), it obviously has a survival advantage over a creature who can’t see–which explains why most animals today have eyes. But the light was already there, moving through spacetime, before the eye was–it had to have been. In a dark universe, eyes would not evolve, and indeed there are some creatures today who live without eyes in deep caves–where there is no light to be exploited.

    Significantly, some of the light we can see emanates from the past. Jim Kacian has a haiku on this subject:

    long view to Sirius even the past isn’t past

    When you look at Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, you are looking 8.6 years into the past because that’s how long it takes for its light to reach us. I.e., Sirius is 8.6 light years from the Earth (51,600,000,000,000 miles). And as stars go, it’s very close.

    The light from Sirius, moving through spacetime, has been striking the Earth since long before life emerged. In the Cambrian period, about 540 million years ago, when eyes first evolved, some creature saw Sirius for the first time. Later, the dinosaurs saw it. Later still, mammals and, finally, early humans saw it. Then, someone thought to give the star a name (not “Sirius”, but something, maybe just a grunt). But neither the perception of the star nor the naming of it caused it to exist. It was out there in spacetime shining since it formed billions of years ago.

    Now, with the Hubble telescope you can look billions of years into the past, into a time long long before human consciousness existed and see what the early universe was like. That’s just one way in which we know–and can see for ourselves!–that spacetime existed long before consciousness existed because in some very precise ways “the past isn’t past”. The clues as to what the cosmos was like before we arrived are, in fact, all around us, if only we can learn to interpret them properly. That’s what science is all about.

    I agree that the *concepts* of nature and spacetime (and everything else!) did not exist before consciousness and language; but irrefutable evidence shows that the things themselves existed before they were perceived and named. The material existence of the signified quite simply does not depend upon a signifier.

    As for haiku, I think there’s no aspect of reality that cannot inform them. Certainly, Jim’s haiku above is informed by an understanding of how spacetime, light, and perception actually work.

  13. Peter:
    I can’t find the entry I sent you and because of my esteem for you and for the value of your question, I’ll do it again.
    Many of my poems have been informed by the view I have expressed that nature is commensurate with consciousness. One comes to mind:
    Inside of me/bison are stampeding/across caves
    The poem arose from a conversation of Joseph Campbell’s about his first visit to the cave paintings in France.
    I was deeply impressed and it struck me that in the deep darkness of the cave, which is the womb of being, in the light of a torch, one could suddenly see and hear the thunderous explosion of hooves and breath and the birth of existence; creation, in short.
    And,it occurred to me that this cave was our mind, from where creation didn’t occur once, but was continually occurring. The mind, with its collective unconscious, contains all time and space and in it the creation of the world is ongoing and reached not only across time and space to the birth of the world, but that the birth of the world was happening every instant in our cave.
    I wrote a whole host of similar poems, in which I identified myself with objections of sense or thought, as I believe the world is our mind.

  14. Well, Peter, I’ve written a host of poems that are informed by the view I’ve expressed about nature as consciousness. Just as an example: Inside of me/bison are stampeding/across caves.
    I was thinking of the cave paintings of bison in France and the impression Joseph Campbell spoke of when visiting the caves for the first time. In the darkness, the darkness of the womb of being, in the light of torches, one could see and hear the thunderous hooves, breath, etc. of life coming into existence in the world.
    I realized and felt that this place, this cave, was, of course, my/our minds; it was a universal experience of our collective unconscious that contains the origins of all things.
    For me, the creation, as exquisitely expressed by the paintings and Campbell, was going on indefinitely, had never stopped, and existed in me (and, therefore, everyone).
    With a belief in linear time/space and of an “outside” as opposed to an “inside,” and with a belief in time as “having” occured rather than continuing to occur, I could not have written the poem.
    Many of my poems at a certain point were of this same nature.
    I wouldn’t engage in dialogue that didn’t directly impact writing of haiku. It wouldn’t be worthwhile then.

  15. I’ll limit my remarks to the haiku you post, since this is the subject and I’ve not read the many books you refer to.
    I never imagined or meant to convey that “forty thousand years ago” didn’t/doesn’t exist, nor that there is not an “expanse of stars.”
    However, the space and time referred to in these poems only exist inasmuch as there is/was consciousness/mind/language to engage it or disengage it from the massa confusa (for lack of a better term) that preceded it (conventionally speaking). Or, better yet, the origin of space/time is coincident with consciousness/language/mind.
    Just to offer an example: many cultures have mythos of a golden age, an age when human beings were inseparable from their world and then came the fall, at which time culture was created and human beings lost their original nature. However, logically speaking, nature (the kind of pristine, pre-existent nature you seem to posit), could not have existed prior to the arising of culture. It was only when/as culture existed or was consciously experienced as existing could nature come into existence, as it was this very dichotomy that created the complex.
    Surely, nature could not have been known or experienced (and for that reason existed) until there was something that was not nature (or, at least, perceived/experienced as not nature).
    Difference is how language works and how language works is how thought works. Without awareness of the difference between mind and nature, there would be no nature (space/time).
    Whether, indeed, there was something there (and I do, as I’ve said, believe there was), could not be said to exist until distinctions between existence and non-existence arose. Or, this ground of being that permits the awareness of existence/non-existence, is from where nature/mind arose and no other. And this distinction, this aptitude to differentiate, is the very function of mind/consciousness/language and the origin of the world.
    After all, all the words you would be required to use to designate your pre-existing place (and it could not be done without words of some sort), would be historically determined
    wouldn’t they? Universe (a thought of harmony isn’t it?) Cosmos (order), world (from the old English, I believe).
    What existed prior to cognizance of it does not seem to me to worthy of the word nature. Nature is an historical introduction.

  16. I don’t think we are going solve the mystery of consciousness here. I would be interested to know in what ways your views of consciousness (as it may or may not relate to “nature”) inform your writing. For me, I see poetry and all language as inseparable from but also arising out of… I don’t know what– call it consciousness if you wish. I see it as play, and the fact that I sometimes take it very seriously doesn’t change that. A personal example might be:

    she slips into
    the ocean the ocean
    slips into

  17. I was under the impression this was a conversation not a “war”. If you post an opinion here, esp. a highly controversial one (“I’m afraid there is no nature,” etc.), you invite dialectical engagement. So let the conversation flow–there’s not the slightest need to be unpleasant about it. You say in one of your ku, Jack, that you haven’t laughed in twenty years. Maybe now’s the time to do so!

    For me, the problem with your account of “reality”, so far, is that it simply ignores modern scientific models. You say, with apparent sarcasm, “how consciousness developed, that’s beyond my ken (though you seem to have a privileged knowledge as to its origins)”. Actually, a great deal is known about this subject. For starters you could check out:

    The Evolution of Consciousness, Euan Macphail (Oxford, 1998)

    Species of Mind: The Philosophy and Biology of Cognitive Ethology, Colin Allen & Marc Bekoff (MIT, 1999)

    The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, Geoffrey Miller (Anchor, 2001)

    (And I see Merrill just added a very interesting post!)

    There is also much to be learned about the nature of spacetime, which is not simply a projection of human/animal consciousness but rather the arena in which consciousness emerged. See, in particular:

    The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, Brian Green (Vintage, 2004)

    which lucidly summarizes the dauntingly complex findings of modern physics from Einstein to the present.

    Animals communicate in highly sophisticated ways, but virtually all experts on the subject seem to agree that those modes of communication do not meet the full criteria for “language”. From a Wikipedia article on the subject: “Although some other animals make use of quite sophisticated communicative systems, and these are sometimes casually referred to as animal language, none of these are known to make use of all of the properties that linguists use to define language in the strict sense.”

    As for animal consciousness, of course a great deal of research has been done in this area as well, notably by the zoologist Donald Griffin (author of Animals Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness, 2001).

    A great deal more is known, obviously, than was in Kant’s day about every subject “under the sun”, and Kant certainly did not speak the final word on empiricism.

    “You fail to see the irony in the fact that everything you posit is thought (language)”

    Well, of course, everyone here is communicating via language. It’s too bad we can’t include non-linguistic communication as well, such as gestures, which are often clarifying. (And tones too.) But this hardly proves there is nothing outside of language or that reality didn’t exist before human consciousness did.

    As for Paticca-samuppāda (Conditioned Genesis or Dependent Origination), it, yes, claims all things are relative, interdependent, and impermanent–all of which is perfectly consistent with what I’m saying and with scientific models of the universe. I have, btw, studied several translations of Nagarjuna (incl. Stephen Batchelor’s and Jay Garfield’s) although my own practice is not within the Mādhyamaka tradition.

    Also, in my last post I distinguished between a Buddhist position and a solipsist position w/o specifically ascribing the latter to you. I was simply making a quick philosophical distinction, and I’m sorry if you took it the wrong way.

    Finally, to steer this back to haiku! Small gestures in language toward what lies beyond in spacetime:

    motionless in stone
    for forty thousand years
    a bird wing
    (Charles B. Dickson)

    outside the circle of light
    an expanse of stars
    (Christopher Herold)

  18. I heard a very interesting conversation by a group of scientists who are studying the human brain, and their big question is:
    “What makes consciousness.” It seems that the human brain has 25,000 genes that separate our brains from other animals.
    That the brain (for analogy’s sake) is like a long sheet of paper with the genetic makeup laid out on it..and since that long paper can not fit into the round skull it is crumpled up (as is evidenced by the creases and crannies of the brain) and these genes each have different functions. Once they had the genetic map they could locate the gene that did certain things…and they discovered that the thing that makes us human is the ability to form subjectivity – feeling/consciousness/unified qualatative feeling/awareness/empathy/emotion.

    A thought you have is turned into a biological fact by creating pathways in the brain.

    There was a lot more to this discussion and I wish I could have taken down all the connecting thoughts. But it has been a conversation that has been quite enjoyable to contemplate.

    I doubt any of us here will ever have absolute knowledge or wisdome to ever comprehend ultimate truth…all any of us have to go on is that little wrinkle that formed along the way in our lives.

  19. Your sarcasm (veiled hostility) makes it difficult for me to consider reading the book, although I might have a look at it.
    While you’re at it, you might want to read Kant to help you get over your empiricism.

  20. Since we are handing out reading assignments (what fun!), I have a thoughtful and well-reasoned book to suggest: The Symbolic Species, The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, by Terrence W. Deacon.

  21. You seem to misunderstand Buddhism in regard to its central tenet of no-self. This central idea applies to existence generally, not just human beings. It teaches that there is no abiding self anywhere (not just the human self). There is no independent existence, whether that be the world, universe, object, or person.

  22. Well, I don’t really want to continue this “war” with you, and I don’t appreciate your insistence on misunderstanding me perversely and describing what I am saying is solipsism. Solipsism is a philosophy that posits that only subjective reality exists and that there is nothing outside it. I have not said that. Additionally, Buddhism does not acknowledge a “reality” without mind. And it does not limit mind (consciousness) to humans, but includes all sentient beings in its discussions.
    Buddhism recognizes that “something” exists outside of mind but that it originates relationally with mind.
    As to how consciousness developed, that’s beyond my ken (though you seem to have a privileged knowledge as to its origins).
    And you’re quite wrong about animals; they do possess language, albeit it is different from our own.
    As to “categories” pre-existing consciousness- categories such as space and time-I don’t think there is any basis for this.
    You fail to see the irony in the fact that everything you posit is thought (language) and arguably impossible without it.
    Experiences that you avow exist without language (pre-language, if you will) are still experiences of and within language (in its broadest sense).
    And, frankly, it is you who are anthropomorphizing; sentient beings-fish, fowl, animals, insects, plants-have entirely different experiences of what is “reality” and it does not necessarily include human terms such as space, time, etc.
    I suggest you read Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika translated by Jay Garfield to broaden your understanding of Buddhism.
    And, I suggest that you read what I have said, a number of times, that there is something there (“outside,” if you insist), although what it is is nomalistic and without a “nature” of its own.

  23. Also: I would not equate “dependent origination” with the idea that reality is dependent upon consciousness. Buddhism is actually the opposite of solipsism. The latter says “I’ am the only reality; the former says there is no “I”.

  24. “Consciousness” in the human sense came from somewhere; it was preceded by something that was real. There were billions of years in which matter was shuffled about by various natural forces before we came along and before we, later, developed language. Time, space, and matter were already there; we simply invented symbols to gesture toward those things. I think you’re putting the cart before the horse, Jack.

    Consciousness, in other words, is dependent upon nature, but the reverse is not true in the least. To think that language magically invents reality rather than simply gestures toward a preexisting reality is what I would call naive, not to mention anthropocentric and unscientific. Animals w/o language (foxes, owls, early humans and their ancestor species, and on and on) experience reality in highly complex ways w/o language. And contemporary humans are not limited to a purely verbal apprehension of reality. We perceive, understand, and react even before we can verbalize, in many cases. I think you’re placing way too much emphasis on what is simply one tool we’ve developed to organize and communicate our experience of reality.

    Reality existed in the time of the dinosaurs and before, and one of the great things about being human is that we can reconstruct that reality that precedes us. We can understand that the “not-me” does not require the “me” in order to exist. The world extends far beyond us in time and space–to degrees that make our existence a rather insignificant fact in the larger picture.

  25. So, the venture to experience and write (which, of course, necessitates the virtues and shortfalls of language) about “nature” itself (which is a word, of course, a concept that has had a long and varying history) is simply impossible.

  26. Mark:
    I repeat: I am not saying that there is nothing “outside” of us. What does “exist” is what Buddhist’s call dependent origination; of course, when we die the “world” continues, but it continues without essential, intrinsic existence. What we experience is rather basically how our language functions, by the creation of discrete distinctions (phonemes, etc). A tree, for instance, has no existence in itself and has only a “nominal” existence; it is earth, water, etc. and consciousness. Our experience, mediated as it is through language, creates distinct entities (abstractions), which do not exist outside of our experience.

  27. To Jack Galmitz: Please clarify your last post. Are you saying that if you don’t hear, see, or in some other way experience a tree fall, it did not fall? When you die, will the world (and all of us) cease to exist? Really?

  28. What I am proposing is not that there is nothing “out” there, so solipsism would not be the correct term to apply to what I’m talking about. But, what is out there is co-dependent on consciousness and has no existence of its own, no essential, independent existence.

  29. Cosmos is a Greek word giving whatever is out there a definition (order). There is no “reality” without language. To think so is naive. There is no time or space or being without consciousness, as these are also created by language.
    And the “not-me” obviously implies a “me,” otherwise it could not exist as such.

  30. The cosmos (nature), regardless of what we call it, was around for billions of years before human consciousness and language were and can do just fine without us, individually and collectively. Understanding that makes solipsism a sterile fallacy. We can both study and give expression to–though haiku or other means–what Emerson called “the not-me”.

  31. I’m afraid there is no nature. Nature is a definition of human beings. Indeed, nature came into existence after culture. Prior to culture (and the dichotomy inherent in it), nature did not exist.
    As Charles Olson pointed out, we live in a human universe.
    Thoreau himself was a prime example of this: he exercised his human will in exemplifying nature as consciousness.
    Sorry, but I don’t think it is possible to separate “nature” from human consciousness.

  32. Hi all,

    these posts are fantastic. It’s a pleasure to read so many interesting thoughts and insights.

    Allan, I’ll certainly be back to continue our discussion, thanks for taking the time and effort to make such lengthy replies, and you too Lorin.

  33. “… but Basho revised.”

    Sure. I take Bashō to have meant an initial draft should be spontaneous, not necessarily ruling out revision if improvement is possible. Two sides of the coin: inspiration and craftsmanship.

    Another great Frost poem about “subversive nature” is “The Wood-Pile”:

    “To warm the frozen swamp as best it could/ With the slow smokeless burning of decay.”

  34. Yes, lorin, Frost was certainly conflicted. He had an unhappy home life and querulous relationships with women. He sought refuge in his work, his poems, and his imagined freedom in nature.

  35. “Art probably finds its true strength in the paradoxical struggle between spontaneous “naturalness” and calculated “artifice”./ Allan

    yes, something along these lines… two kinds of awareness?


  36. ‘And then there are poets in our own tradition so alienated from nature.

    “Nature does not complete things. She is chaotic. Man must finish, and he does so by making a garden and building a wall.” Robert Frost’ / Cherie

    …and yet:

    ‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offence.
    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’

    Robert Frost, ‘Mending Wall’

    The ‘something… that doesn’t love a wall’ at the beginning of the poem seems to be clearly the forces of nature, yet about two thirds into the poem, quoted above, it’s acknowledged as something in the poet’s nature,too, isn’t it?

    I can’t think of Frost as alienated from nature; I rather think of him as very, very ambivalent about man’s ‘need to finish’ and aware (uncomfortably?) of this difference that he perceives between Nature and human nature.


  37. “A man once asked Rumi, ‘Why is it you talk so much about silence?’ His answer: ‘The radiant one inside me has never said a word'”…..from The Soul of Rumi translated by Coleman Barks. When I hear a haiku that resonates with my “radiant one” I know it’s true.

  38. Subversive nature…how about this haiku from Allan Burns:

    blackberry brier
    an old boundary post
    clawed by bears

  39. “nature” subverts “the city” (Sandra)

    A useful additional perspective, I think. All our artifacts are hammered from nature but are, of course, impermanent and by one means or another will “return”. Some interesting haiku have explored this tension. I think of this by Helen Russell:

    sidewalk tilted
    by the maple’s roots–
    faint city stars
    (Heron’s Nest 7.1, 2005)

  40. “Art” derives from the Indo-European root “ar-” (“put things together, join”) which also pointed the way to “arm” and “arthritis”. It is related also to “artificial” and, obviously, “artifice”. And a “poet” is, of course, a “maker” (from the Greek). So that side of things is well-represented in the language itself. Some great voices, though, have offered counterweight here. Keats: “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves of a tree, it had better not come at all.” And Bashō himself: “Composition much occur in an instant….” Art probably finds its true strength in the paradoxical struggle between spontaneous “naturalness” and calculated “artifice”. Melville: “A flame to melt–a wind to freeze;/ Sad patience–joyous energies.” All by way of exploratory response to Lorin’s “but poetry isn’t ‘natural’ utterance”.

    Another point raised by Lorin: “don’t you think that evading or skirting ‘I’ in haiku may have become a poetic conceit or technique in some cases?”

    To me, the problem is in our language itself, which treats the self as reified thing, noun or pronoun, when to me self is more verb, interfacing with its element and constantly changed/changing through that process. Peter’s words on the subject seem to me to flow from a deep place. A haiku, and a “nature” one at that, that expresses my sense of this more fully than my prose can:

    climbing in shadow–
    the canyon rim
    brightly lit

  41. And then there are poets in our own tradition so alienated from nature.

    “Nature does not complete things. She is chaotic. Man must finish, and he does so by making a garden and building a wall.” Robert Frost

  42. On a more mundane note we should acknowledge that “nature” subverts “the city” (which in this case I’m using as a synoym for “civilisation”) every moment of every day, whereas “the city” attempts to conquer, or at least tidily corral, “nature”.

    Moss grows in gutters, so-called weeds sprout in the most unlikely places (give concrete/asphalt/macadam a crack and there’ll be a plant sooner or later), birds, insects, small and medium-size wild animals … they can all inhabit the city as well as any human. The fact that they could inhabit it better without any humans is another story, although I will add this link about what happens when humans flee a city – in this case a poisoned city.

    The lines are blurred and my perception is that any “gap” is seen only on our side – the rest of “nature” doesn’t acknowledge it.

  43. Can I make distinctions without making division? Is a deer separate from the field it walks across? From a practical point of view, it is separate- that is, if I am a hunter, that perspective allows me to track, kill and eat. But I am human, and not bound by a single perspective. From another, the one the poet and shaman in my tribe partakes of and balances me with, there is no separation—I can taste the grass in the deer’s meat, starlight it stood under illuminates my gut, my skin is continuous with the skin of all animals and feels the same wind.

  44. This conversation reminded me of something Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a letter to his wife. It’s about Cezanne’s working method:

    “I think there was a conflict, a mutual struggle between the two procedures of, first, looking and confidently receiving, and then of appropriating and making personal use of what has been received; that the two, perhaps as a result of becoming conscious, would immediately start opposing each other, talking out loud, as it were, and go on perpetually interrupting and contradicting each other.”

    And then in another letter from the same collection, something that makes me chuckle:

    “All talk is misunderstanding. Insight is only within the work. No doubt about it.”

  45. ‘The difference to me is that subjectivity manifests itself in the Reps explicitly and actively whereas in the Gourlay it does so implicitly and passively (Christopher noted something along these lines earlier). Explicitly calling attention to the self in a haiku is, of course, often unnecessary, and (to end with a perhaps provocative statement) from a higher philosophical perspective the self is a delusion.’

    Hi Allan, yes, but poetry isn’t ‘natural’ utterance, we select what we put in and leave out, including references to ‘self’. Of course we don’t need to put ‘I’ in every poem (or in every mundane sentence) but don’t you think that evading or skirting ‘I’ in haiku may have become a poetic conceit or technique in some cases? As you say, the ‘I’ of the poem is there implicitly in all haiku, since it is written, since someone has made the observation.

    I can’t say I prefer either implicit or explicit ‘self’ in haiku, as in other poems. It depends on the particular poem.

    Nothing obviously to do with haiku, but would a look at Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ and ‘Songs of Experience’ be pertinent in any way?


  46. walking through the forest
    I rearrange
    the trees

    – Paul Reps

    ‘On these grounds I find something really wholistic about this “haiku” which speaks a clear truth about reality (Nature) in the broad sense. The poet has made an object of his subjectivity, providing an ultimately objective account of Nature. This would appear to be Nature “as she is”. ‘ Chris

    ‘- You and I share the exact same point of view regarding the Reps poem.’

    um, no, I don’t think we do, Chris… here’s the crunch, in your

    ‘providing an ultimately objective account of Nature.’

    (and this is leaving aside your equation of Nature and ‘reality’….way too difficult for me!)

    The irony I find in the Paul Rep ku is that it’s clear that in this moment of awareness he shows that he *cannot* give an ‘ultimately objective account of nature.’ It’s as if he catches himself out. It surely is an insight into our limitations as perceivers/observers, and a humorous one.

    Cherie’s statement, above, is also perceptive in a similar humorous way:

    ‘It becomes the philosopher’s task to debate whether a bear’s ear is enough to qualify as a receiver. ‘ C.H. D.

    We are always putting our thumb on the scales, arranging things in our minds (including ‘Nature’) to our liking. There can be no ‘ultimately objective account’, no matter how good we get at utilizing Nature. Wasn’t it Laozi who put this into words, long ago? It was a wonderful breakthrough, I think, when the scientists realised that electrons could be seen as either particles or wave, depending. There’s a humbling hint there, imo.

    A plastic bag, it may be argued, is ultimately of Nature (how could it not be?) but we know the difference between a plastic bag and a clay pot or a wicker basket. Both plastic bag and basket are man-made, but it is normal usage to say one is made of ‘natural’ materials and the other isn’t. When humans become, in the future, surgically, genetically and technologically ‘enhanced’, they will still be ‘of nature’, in the broad sense, but they will still be just one of the ‘10,000 things’.

    And which view of the electron shows it ‘as it is’?


  47. Christopher,

    I really see this still as a matter of semantics. There’s no question that the word “nature” is often used to signify that part of our environment not modified by humans. The word certainly can mean many different things, though. For instance, the online (which saves me from a bit of typing) gives 17 different meanings:

    1. the material world, esp. as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
    2. the natural world as it exists without human beings or civilization.
    3. the elements of the natural world, as mountains, trees, animals, or rivers.
    4. natural scenery.
    5. the universe, with all its phenomena.
    6. the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe.
    7. reality, as distinguished from any effect of art: a portrait true to nature.
    8. the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person, animal, thing, or class by birth, origin, or constitution; native or inherent character: human nature.
    9. the instincts or inherent tendencies directing conduct: a man of good nature.
    10. character, kind, or sort: two books of the same nature.
    11. characteristic disposition; temperament: a self-willed nature; an evil nature.
    12. the original, natural, uncivilized condition of humankind.
    13. the biological functions or the urges to satisfy their requirements.
    14. a primitive, wild condition; an uncultivated state.
    15. a simple, uncluttered mode of life without the conveniences or distractions of civilization: a return to nature.
    16. (initial capital letter, italics) a prose work (1836), by Ralph Waldo Emerson, expounding transcendentalism.
    17. Theology. the moral state as unaffected by grace.

    The first four meanings are what I mean in this discussion (and I do think there are some redundancies here that could be rolled into a single def., but I’m working with what I’ve got). The fifth is what you mean. I agree that if we use that fifth definition then human beings are, of course, part of nature. But that’s not the meaning we typically intend in a haiku context when we say things such as “A haiku connects human nature and nature.” There are two quite distinct meanings of “nature” in that sentence, the first corresponding with def. 8 above and the second with 1-4 & 14. So let’s just recognize that the word “nature” can mean quite a range of things. Having done that, I think it’s clear that we’re not really disagreeing but just using different definitions.

    I would add, though, that if we can recognize a distinction, then we can always put a name to the objects we’re distinguishing. And it’s usually not difficult at all to distinguish between natural environments (such as a rain forest) and built environments (such as a city). Further, just because A comes from B does not mean A = B. You, for instance, came from your parents, but we recognize that you are a distinct entity from them. Likewise, human civilization can arise from nature and yet be recognizable as distinct.

    A concept that might be useful to contemplate here is that of “emergence”, i.e., the way complex systems, patterns, and properties can arise, often unexpectedly, from something quite different. One of the key characteristics of emergence is radical novelty, and that is certainly a property of the human brain. The evolution of the human brain endowed us with capacities, for language use, technological innovation, culture formation, and so on, hitherto completely unknown on this planet. (It might be worth adding that the engine that apparently drove that evolution, as Geoffrey Miller has argued, was probably much more sexual selection than natural selection–which is also the engine of other marvels such as the peacock’s tail.)

    Anyway, I would say that it is useful, necessary even, to recognize this new emergent force as something other than what it emerged from–thus, the distinction between “civilization” and “nature”. And I am using the word “nature” here not merely in an accepted way but according to the primary recognized definition. But if we keep using different defs. (1-4 vs. 5 above) we’ll keep talking past one another.

    Lorin brings up an interesting point about perception. I would say (quickly) that it’s of course true that our perceptions of the universe are relative to the sensory equipment we’ve evolved. I’d further say that haiku is understood to be written from that particular human perspective and that “nature as it is” in this context means from that perspective, with whatever clarity and acuity it can muster.

    As for the Reps and Gourlay haiku, I see both as realistic and subjective. The difference to me is that subjectivity manifests itself in the Reps explicitly and actively whereas in the Gourlay it does so implicitly and passively (Christopher noted something along these lines earlier). Explicitly calling attention to the self in a haiku is, of course, often unnecessary, and (to end with a perhaps provocative statement) from a higher philosophical perspective the self is a delusion.

  48. Hi again Allan! I just wanted to say I’m sorry if it seems like I’m being agressive. It isn’t how I feel, I’m just delving head long into the debate. I don’t want you to feel like I’m picking a fight, so to speak. I just want to make sure that’s clear, as I know that discussions through the medium of comments like this are very vulnerable to wrong interpretations of that sort. Anyway, that’s all.


    I’m not sure if it’s a matter of theology necessarily, though that could certainly be a factor in one’s thoughts about it. I certainly agree when you say that it’s not simply a matter of asserting, without good reason, that “of course there isn’t [any difference between nature and human nature / humanity]”.

    Indeed, asking “what is nature?” is an important component of the discussion. Allan brought this up directly in his last response to me when he said he felt we were using the same word to mean different things. I also raise the issue at the end of my last message. Have you got any thoughts on what an answer to this might be? Of course, there may not be a definitive answer, but that could be a part of the answer…!

  49. “If a tree falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Philosophers have been arguing about observation and the knowledge of reality for a very, very long time. According to physicists for sound to occur there must be a source, a medium, and a receiver. Remove any part of the equation—the source (tree), the medium (air) or the receiver (ear) and there is no sound. It becomes the philosopher’s task to debate whether a bear’s ear is enough to qualify as a receiver.

    What I think Robert Spiess was getting at with this speculation was this—is it enough for haiku to be a mirror of nature or is there something more involved in bearing witness. Writing about our surroundings has to be more than reporting perceptions. Observation changes us. Thoreau is a great example of a writer changed by closely watching the seasons.

    Given the likes of nature writers like Rachael Carson, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams is haiku is even nature writing to begin with?

    “Who publishes the sheet-music of the wind or the music of water written in river-lines? John Muir (1834-1914)

  50. Is there a gap between nature and human nature? As I use the word “gap,” it refers to the gap between the short and long bits of a haiku (notice I avoided saying “kigo”); this “gap” is best seen as LIKE the turn in a sonnet; it is of the essence of the form. Other things– syllable count, etc. — are minor by comparison. This gap is a formal re-presentation of the difference between particulars and universals (here is where things get muddy), between the givens of a narrative scene and the point of view offered by the short bit (sometimes the kigo, but kigo may be an orientation of consciousness analogous to the season; that’s another open question). The “gap” between nature and human nature is a matter of theology, I suppose; it’s not enough to say, “of course there isn’t.” The question of “nature” is itself alive and well as a question, so before we answer the gap question, let’s ask “What is nature?” For help see Pierre Hadot, “The Veil of Isis.”

  51. Lorin,

    you said:

    “April breeze–
    branches of the ash tree
    rearrange the sky

    – Caroline Gourlay

    walking through the forest
    I rearrange
    the trees

    – Paul Reps

    The first follows some of the conventions of haiku : no mention of ’self’, what the branches appear to do to the perceiver who, either in reality or for the purposes of the poem, has lost awareness of self. The second shows an awareness akin to Simic’s, an ironic awareness of human perception and the poet’s (neccessary) bent for selecting and arranging, at the very least, what’s perceived.

    Perhaps the second comes closer to ‘nature as she is’ if we include ourselves and our capacity for self-awareness as part of nature?


    – You and I share the exact same point of view regarding the Reps poem. I wrote something of a very similar nature about the same poem on the first page of these comments. It’s his simultaneous awareness of subjectivity and objectivity, and the relationship between them, that makes it such an interesting candidate for the topic of “nature as ‘she’ is”.


    hello again! Yes, I do agree it’s very hard to do these subjects any justice in these brief comments. However, I feel our discussion is still of value – what we discuss may stimulate the thoughts of others.

    I won’t make this post quite so long as the last couple have been!

    Let me begin with an apology though, I am sorry for making the jump between our thoughts about Nature and what you feel is suitable content for haiku. You were right to defend yourself as follows:

    “First, though, let me clarify: I never argued that humanity should be excluded from haiku. As a poet and editor I may incline toward haiku that focus on nature, and I may also feel that a general shift toward anthropocentric subjects reflects larger trends of our massively growing civilization that are worth resisting; but I don’t aim to tell anyone else how they “should” write.”

    Anyway, moving on.

    You say:

    “If you use “nature” exclusively to signify what I call “materiality”, then I’m not sure what word you would use to describe matter not modified by human activity.”

    For me the question then arises, why are we calling matter modified by humans something other than nature? This is the fundamental problem I am getting at.

    You also said:

    “Surely it’s worth having such a word?”

    Yes, I agree with that. However, I don’t think that the word should mark a separation between humans and nature. Rather, I would see it as describing a subset of nature – one thing within another as it were.

    I think of it this way: I can look at a collection of bent and broken branches and say “that is the nest of a gorilla”. However, I can then say that “Gorillas, and the nests which they make, are a part of nature”. Thus, I can put a boundary around the topic (Gorilla nests), and discuss only that, but it is always actually a part of the broader topic (nature).

    I believe it should likewise be the case with humanity.

    In response to your next statement of:

    “Also, I don’t think it’s correct to conclude that because human intelligence resulted from the operation of natural forces that the products of human intelligence are themselves necessarily nature.”

    There isn’t much I can do here except to ask the question of why? Why are we placing a different status on human intellect, and why, if human intellect is actually a part of nature, are the products of human intellect not also a part of nature?

    A crude expression of this claim might be:
    nature + nature = not nature. So, we must return to the question – why would this be the case? Why is the product of human intellect considered differently to the product of any other animal’s intellect (Gorilla nests, to use our ongoing example)? I admit there is a difference of degree, but I don’t believe there is a difference of kind.

    Moving on to a different part of your response, you state:

    “Nonetheless, gorilla brains have not evolved to the point where they could create language and culture. In that sense, gorillas are still part of nature according to the OAD definition. ”

    So, my question is, why is the intellects’ capability to create language, and thus culture, considered as a break away from nature? Why is it not a seen as just a particular part of nature? (An easy way of conceiving of what I’m getting at here might be to think of circles within circles).

    Anyway, one last thing which you said:

    “The other troublesome word here seems to be “gap”, introduced originally by Peter Yovu in his question. I already acknowledged it can mean different things, and I will stand by what I wrote earlier: “if a ‘gap’ signifies a recognizable difference between human civilization and nature or a lack of harmony between the two, then obviously there is a significant gap.” ”

    I think that the difference you speak of depends upon the prior conceptions we hold of nature and humanity (are they in opposition with each other, or stacked inside one another like a russian doll?) For me, one is stacked inside the other. You see a recognizable “difference”, but I just see a recognizable “aspect” or “subset”.

    I hope I haven’t gone on too long, but I’m enjoying our discussion. I do see the points you make, but I am jumping to the questions which, for me, they raise.

    Maybe speak on here again soon!

    All the best,


  52. *nature as somebody has portrayed her*

    Haiku poets, as much as anyone else, tend to portray nature as somebody else (often another haiku poet) has portrayed ‘her’. The traditions and conventions, the associated philosophies and our reading of haiku set this up. Do we see with fresh eyes? Not always, but we can be aware that it is our nature, the nature of our minds, to order our perceptions and experiences into habitual, learnt patterns. We learn to drive a car. Then habit takes over and we can drive a car ‘with our eyes closed’ (almost), without the awareness of every little movement of our body and thank goodness! But write haiku like this? The ‘somebody’ who has portrayed nature in a haiku in the past might even be ourselves. We might be ‘seeing’ and haiku-ing on automatic.

    *Nature as she is*

    I’ve always had a problem with the various ‘things as they are’ statements. How are things? Cats, like humans, see the world in colours, though apparently a little more than we do into the red end of the spectrum and less into the blue (or I might have that back to front) but unlike us they have a gland in the roof of their mouths that analyzes the chemical composition of scents! Bees have different eyes than we do. A floating plastic bag looks like jellyfish dinner to some unfortunate sea-creatures. Nature *as ‘she’ is* is different depending on who or what is perceiving. How different is a drop of pond water under the microscope or Saturn from a very powerful telescope than with the naked human eye. Is it ‘enlightenment’, arrogance or fantasy to believe that there is one way of perceiving ‘nature as she is’, and who can perceive the whole at once?

    “So much depends on what one emphasizes. . . : Allan

    Indeed, and not only in the accumulation of philosophies around haiku, but in what we select (emphasize) to write into a haiku. It isn’t only haiku poets who’ve considered the question of ‘things as they are’. William Carlos Williams points to the fact that poets *select*, from among many images of things in the environment in his much anthologised (and originally untitled):

    so much depends

    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

    Charles Simic, in his ‘The White Room’, shows (with humorous awareness, to me) the difficulty of keeping human subjectivity and the propensity for narrative out of the way of fresh seeing:
    . . .
    The sun pointed to one or two
    Things that had survived
    The long night intact.
    The simplest things,

    Difficult in their obviousness.
    . . .

    Just things as they are,
    Unblinking, lying mute
    In that bright light–
    And the trees waiting for the night.

    (‘things as they are’ so brilliantly undercut by ‘unblinking, lying mute’, language and the propensity for pattern and narrative entering)

    April breeze–
    branches of the ash tree
    rearrange the sky

    – Caroline Gourlay

    walking through the forest
    I rearrange
    the trees

    – Paul Reps

    The first follows some of the conventions of haiku : no mention of ‘self’, what the branches appear to do to the perceiver who, either in reality or for the purposes of the poem, has lost awareness of self. The second shows an awareness akin to Simic’s, an ironic awareness of human perception and the poet’s (neccessary) bent for selecting and arranging, at the very least, what’s perceived.

    Perhaps the second comes closer to ‘nature as she is’ if we include ourselves and our capacity for self-awareness as part of nature?


  53. Eve, You’re youtube link brings to mind the argument of whether mankind can be more cruel than nature…than natural forces. Thanks for that link.
    Today, in my way home a totally black wooly bear….

  54. “Nature as she is” is something we think about at Single Island Press, in the heart of New England and a short drive away from Walden Pond. Modern ecology has destroyed the myth of “nature as she is.” We devoted a lot of time and money to create a book that explores the diachronic view of the question in one of the great wilderness places, the Adirondacks. See our book The Empty Boathouse for a creative response to the question of nature/culture and change. The interplay between poem and archival photo makes for a profound reading experience. If we want haiku to be taken seriously, as literature, we have to discover ways to present the abundant resources of the haiku tradition in world culture.

  55. Gabi, I’m glad you brought kigo back into the discussion.

    Season words bring up several things in regards to this topic for me:

    how our relationship to the cyclical aspects of time and specifics of place have been significantly altered in a global economy–

    It seems to me that a large part of our lives has given way to a linear concept of time — although people may think about cyclical time in regards to life cycles and spirituality, and although many of us are greatly tied to the seasonal cycles,
    — as a society as a whole, we seem to be racing “forward”.
    Largely I think this is due to a belief in “progress” through technology, the degree to which we have alienated ourselves from our food sources, and the general move towards capitalism all around the world.
    not just the idea that we can get fruit out of season,
    but the fact that human activity is largely responsible for the global warming that is changing the entire climate system and the seasons as we have known them. And yet we drive forward with a capitalist system which completely depends on consumption while there is no way we can sustain this level of consuming and live on this planet.

    so for me, the implications of kigo in contemporary haiku are changing

    secondly, as has been discussed in other blogs,
    the deep feeling and layers of meaning that can expand from the use of specific kigo–tsuyu, trillium, sandhill cranes, el mar, obon, Ramadan, the Academy Awards–depend somewhat on a shared experience of the reference.
    The ease of communication in the 21rst century allows
    for more of a shared knowledge base—-across cultures and geographies– of things we have not directly experienced.
    But this knowledge is not experience, and sometimes it can be the very thing that confuses what we think we actually understand about how something is “experienced.” An experience may come from memory or fantasy. It is as much the depth of feeling associated with a choice of kigo and all it unfolds, that makes it work when it works well, and so it keeps me thinking about how to use locale specific kigo and still communicate with someone who has not “lived” it.

  56. Christopher, thanks for continuing the conversation. We’re discussing complex subjects, and it’s difficult to do them justice in a few brief posts. I think some difficulties here are purely semantic, i.e., we’re using the same words to mean different things, notably “nature”, and perhaps “gap.” I’ll get to that.

    First, though, let me clarify: I never argued that humanity should be excluded from haiku. As a poet and editor I may incline toward haiku that focus on nature, and I may also feel that a general shift toward anthropocentric subjects reflects larger trends of our massively growing civilization that are worth resisting; but I don’t aim to tell anyone else how they “should” write.

    You question the distinction I draw between “nature” (“matter relatively unmodified by human activity”) and “civilization” (“matter extensively modified by human activity”). I don’t see how we can do without it, though. If you use “nature” exclusively to signify what I call “materiality”, then I’m not sure what word you would use to describe matter not modified by human activity. Surely it’s worth having such a word?

    To say that there is no “absolute” distinction between nature and human civilization, simply because they are composed from the same kinds of atoms, is not to say there are not important and easily recognizable relative distinctions at higher levels of organization. Also, I don’t think it’s correct to conclude that because human intelligence resulted from the operation of natural forces that the products of human intelligence are themselves necessarily nature. Again, we can easily recognize (and therefore put a name to) a distinction between “blind” natural forces (and their products) and conscious human intention (and its products). Things that resulted from millions of years of evolution don’t much resemble things created in a factory; we need a distinction to speak accurately of the world around us.

    The example of a gorilla is interesting because as one of our closest genetic relatives, gorillas possess capacities closer to ours than most other species do. Nonetheless, gorilla brains have not evolved to the point where they could create language and culture. In that sense, gorillas are still part of nature according to the OAD definition. They do demonstrate the relativity of the topic, though, in that as you point out gorillas modify their environment–but like birds and beavers and wasps, they do so in quite limited ways by comparison with, say, our construction of skyscrapers and deep space probes and nuclear submarines and so on. It’s true and quite fascinating that gorillas and chimpanzees (an even closer relative) can be taught sign language by humans, but, again, they did not develop language use on their own.

    The other troublesome word here seems to be “gap”, introduced originally by Peter Yovu in his question. I already acknowledged it can mean different things, and I will stand by what I wrote earlier: “if a ‘gap’ signifies a recognizable difference between human civilization and nature or a lack of harmony between the two, then obviously there is a significant gap.”

    Hey, thanks for the conversation. I’ll leave it there for now and sign off with a haiku that speaks again to the one by Reps, but in a different way:

    the footpath narrows
    laurel branches take me
    by the sleeve
    (John Wills, Reed Shadows)

  57. Hi again Alan –

    before I say anything else I’d just like to thank you for using that Kacian poem as an example – I have long found it to hold serious power over me. Each time I come to it I find it still retains its original freshness and vibrancy. I’m just really pleased to see it here!

    Anyway, back to the debate. I do take your point – it’s important that, in pragmatic terms, we make a distinction between the products of modern human civilisation and nature / the environment / the wild (albeit one which has a large capacity to slide) in order for certain cases to be made in politics / economics and so on. There is “meaning” to this, I agree with you.

    However, I still don’t find myself totally convinced of a real “gap”, or difference, between humanity and Nature. Like you, I’d like to steer this back to haiku, which is also where I think our differences of opinion might lie.

    There may be pragmatic political distinctions between Nature and humanity, but as you admit there is no “absolute” distinction. So, in regards to haiku – is there a “gap” between humanity and nature? Should our haiku be about Nature at the expense of humanity (excluding it as valid subject matter on what could be termed “*ideological” grounds) or about Nature as a broad category within which humanity exists?

    I tend to think that, as regards haiku, humanity is a part of Nature – like Sandra Simpson also expressed further up on the comments.

    Going back to your last response to me, you listed three broad categories which served as “meaningful” distinctions:

    “1) materiality: all matter
    2) nature: matter relatively unmodified by human activity
    3) civilization: matter extensively modified by human activity”

    I think our opinions diverge at 2), after which we move onto differing trains of thought. To me, humans are an intrinsic part of Nature – in both their goodness and also their capacity to do bad / wrong. The human intellect is not alien to Nature, although its stage of development may be unique within it (as far as we can tell, and on this planet at least(…!?)), but is a constituent part of Nature. Consequently, it cannot be said that the byproduct of human intellect is any less a part of nature than the byproduct of a gorilla’s intellect (bent and broken branches rearranged to form beds).

    It is true that our intellect has created the capacity to alter the world around us much more extensively than any other life on this planet, but I feel that this remains a facet of Nature, and Nature’s endless self-reconfiguration. Nature has a myriad ways of modifying matter, us being but one of them, gorillas another, wasps another, beavers another – and it also compresses coal to form oil, compresses dead sea-creatures to form chalk, and so on…

    So, by these means of understanding, 2) and 3) do not hold water. I don’t think that your views are wrong when understood within a pragmatic political (etc) point of view, but for me it is not a political point of view which governs what makes suitable contents for haiku.

    Thus, I wholley agree with you when you say:

    “In order for us to change, we first have to comprehend what we are doing to the world and what changes in our own values, behavior, and lifestyles can bring about a healthier, more sustainable, less damaging state of affairs. But I see no incentive to change anything we’re doing if we are unable to draw a meaningful distinction between a meadow and a parking lot–which is why I think the environmental point relates directly to the argument in your original post.”

    It is certainly true, we do need to reflect on the impact we have on the world and learn from our mistakes. I abhor the idea of “progress” at the expense of the environment and I strongly suspect that we share similar views about the peril we put both the planet and our species in by our human activity.

    But this does not mean I think there is a “gap” between humanity and nature, any more than I might think there is one between you and me (in the sense that we are both human, and we are both a part of Nature). To use another analogy: isn’t a virus something which exists in Nature and yet thoughtlessly destroys its own habitat?

    It doesn’t seem that we can distinguish ourselves from Nature on these grounds (or perhaps any others…) but, importantly, that does not mean that we cannot see the error in the way we, as an aspect of Nature, impact upon other aspects of Nature. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

    Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’ve gone on far too long. Just to get back to the haiku again…

    That’s a really interesting comparison you draw with Reps poem. Like you, I do tend to prefer the subtler approach. However, Reps is an exception to that for me. I think the reason why is that it shows the subject as an active participant in the creation of reality. Rather than being a passive observer of the world he is engaging with, and thus becoming a part of, the world. In two different ways I feel that the haiku arrive in the same place of ”self-and-object-as-one”, and all being a “part of a larger unity”.

    You said:

    “That’s a perspective that I think can help get us out of our current predicament of being at odds rather in harmony with the world around us. The more we tend in this direction, the better, I think, things will go in the long run for us and biodiversity and all the rest of the world.”

    – I tend to agree.

    Well, thanks for continuing the discussion and hope you won’t get too bored by my lengthy ramblings!! Hope to hear back.

    All the best.

    *ideological not meant in a disparaging sense, but only as a set of ideas applicable to an aspect of human culture

  58. Nice to see your posts, Cherie–

    “Can an eyeball look at itself?”

    Kind of a kōan there. My thought is: Well, in a mirror. And mimetic art has often been described as “holding the mirror up to nature” (nature here in the broadest sense–the phrase originating of course in Hamlet).

    The gap between signifier and signified exists always, of course–yet haiku seems able, through its imagism and suggestive near-wordlessness, to approximate, even if still illusionistically, direct experience itself. Consider:

    gunshot the length of the lake
    (Jim Kacian)

    I experience that mostly as physical sensation: sound, alarm, a quick pan across the water. Then I want to fill in details, go beyond what little has actually been signified to what’s implicit…. Part of what I’m saying is the obvious point that haiku is a quite unusual mode of communication, a tiny gesture with disproportionate meaning.

    And Eve: I think it would be quite interesting to see you do something with “found” ku from Dillard–certainly one of the great nature writers & prose stylists of our time.

  59. I’m finding that ambiguity in blogging is not a good thing and that I should probably do more than dash off a message and hit submit. It was pointed out to me, by a friend, that a post of mine last night was maddeningly unclear. I agree. I wrote:

    “I think it’s remarkable we are debating the existence of a gap between us and nature. I suppose some other group of animals is engaging in a similar conversation in a language we can’t decipher, but I doubt that.”

    I was using the word remarkable in the literal sense. Cherie Hunter Day has since commented “communication is separate from experience. Can an eyeball look at itself?”

    Would a wasp question the nature of nature, or the nature of its existence, or the nature of our existence? Would we be having this conversation if Peter’s question and Allan’s position were completely mad? Well, okay, maybe. Our awareness of our place in the world has created gaps of all sorts. Existential gaps that separate us from nature, from other people, even from parts of ourselves. We are animals, of nature, and yet our tendancy to make distinctions between ourselves and nature makes us a reckless beast that might well destroy nature as we know it. There, are you happy now?

    Eve, I’m not sure which pot you are stirring, but you picked some great haiku.

  60. Eve, I love what you have put into words here:
    “expanding how I embody the syntax of an experience”…
    All that counts is if the bell rings true! Many thanks for that thought.

  61. I’ve enjoyed all the posts on this discussion and how they tease out the paradox of Peter’s questions.

    As many have intimated in their posts, as long as we are in human form, I believe we are both one and separate from the rest of the world, and for me that includes other humans, as well as some unknown planet untouched by civilization as we know it.

    I think it is dangerous to limit or prescribe the way we use language in regard to this issue in our poetry. I personally want to keep expanding how I embody the syntax of an experience, and I appreciate a wide range of approaches:

    a few to stir the pot…

    a whale
    and then a word
    part of the burning

    Scott Metz (Otoliths, issue fourteen)

    having eaten a lizard
    how carefully the cat
    licks its own body!

    tokage kui neko nengoro ni mi wo nameru

    Hashimoto Takako (from Far Beyond the Field, Ueda)

    not seeing
    the room is white
    until that red apple

    Anita Virgil
    ( The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor van den Heuvel)

    full bloom
    in the forest’s genitals
    respiration of gills

    mankai no mori no inbu no era kokyû

    Yagi Mikajo ( translated by Richard Gilbert & Ito Yuki)

    we gather herbs
    after arriving
    in a red Porsche

    yomogi tsumu akai Parushe de noritsukete

    Mayzumi Modoka (from Far Beyond the Field, Ueda)

    in my luggage
    depleted uranium
    and the summer sea

    tenimotsu wa rekka uran to natsu no umi

    Keiji Minato ( from Cordite 29.1–

    reaching for green pears–
    the pull
    of an old scar

    Peggy Lyles ( To Hear the Rain)

    without thinking
    making love
    during the hurricane

    Jim Kacian ( long after)

    one fly everywhere the heat

    Marlene Mountain
    ( The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor van den Heuvel)

    dusk turns gray and
    hazy and breaks off into
    several angry girls

    Chris Gordon ( ant ant ant ant ant #10)

    frost forming–
    such a night
    to abandon a child!

    shimo oku ya kono yo hatashite ko wo suteru


    and one from Spiess;

    Wispy autumn clouds
    in the river shallows
    the droppings of a deer

    ( The Haiku Anthology, ed. Cor van den Heuvel)

    and some prose I return to over and over:

    Lyn Hejinian’s, My Life

    “As if sky plus sun must make leaves.” p.13
    “We would have been kicked away had we been cats.” p.43
    “Twigs are the many sounds of light.” p.55
    “No ideas but in potatoes.” p.70

    Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm,
    and her better known, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,

  62. Allan, I understand the point you are making. Calling a golf course, or a cultivated field, or maybe even a 2nd growth forest, nature is akin to calling ketchup a vegetable, only with more dire results. As Cherie says, naming a think does create a distinction between it and us. The gap we are discussing has been around a very long time, even if only in our minds. Politically speaking, and poetically writing, I think you are saying, we cannot ignore that reality.

  63. The very act of naming something separates it from everything else—this and not that. We look for distinctions. The utility of language depends on distinct and discrete concepts/symbols. Communication is separate from experience. Can an eyeball look at itself?

  64. A lot depends on what one means by a “gap.” If we think in terms of material composition (Sandra’s “We’re all atoms…”), then by definition there could not be a gap–and I tried to cover that earlier by introducing the concept of materiality (of which “nature” on this planet is a subset).

    A sense of “oneness” with the cosmos really comes from a recognition of this fact that the stuff of our own bodies is mutable and constantly being exchanged with our environment through breathing, eating and drinking, excreting, hair falling out, shedding of dead skin, and so on. The body’s cells are constantly being replaced–in fact, 98 percent of them each year. “Oneness” is a physical fact, not a matter of “mysticism”.

    But if a “gap” signifies a recognizable difference between human civilization and nature or a lack of harmony between the two, then obviously there is a significant gap. Our rapid, consciously-directed cultural evolution is a recent development in the Earth’s long history and a quite distinct thing from what we normally mean by natural forces.

    I’ll mention again the primary def. of “nature” my Oxford American Dictionary provides: “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, *as opposed to humans or human creations*” [emphasis mine].

    Looking at it from a haiku perspective: Haiku are often said to connect nature and human nature. The need to make a connection in the first place certainly implies a gap, so it would seem.

    “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”—Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

  65. To answer one part of Peter’s question: No, there is no gap. We are nature, just the same as the green grass, the blue sky and the yellow sun.

    The gambolling lambs, the flitting butterfly, the maple leaves, the patient human observer. We’re all atoms … but our individual view of “nature” is no doubt informed by our lives to date.

    I was fortunate enough to be raised on a farm and to have very strong memories of the rhythms of the seasons, etc. However, most of my life has now been spent living in urban communities. Does that make me any less of a haiku-ist? I certainly don’t think so.

    I have a garden, the rain still falls, clouds still pass overhead and the wind still blows. When I’m in my workplace I have a window through which I can see sky. I can easily travel to places to walk in natural settings with their associated animal and insect life.

    Haiku can come from the inside out, the outside in, memory, conjecture (as Mark has just pointed out and illustrated with that great haiku) …

    Peter mentions Thoreau – Wordsworth died almost 160 years ago, Coleridge 165 years, and Basho over 300 years ago.

    What does this long history of “nature poetry” tell us? I hazard that it’s nothing more than an interest in our surroundings, curiosity, call it what you will. Some people paint what they see, others cook it. We write haiku.

    dawn –
    the old oak breaks
    into song

    John O’Connor
    (Before the Sirocco, NZ Poetry Society anthology, 2008)

  66. And why do the catbird and the mocking bird offer songs of other birds to woo their mates? There’s a marvelous book about the beharioral ecology and natural history of the black-capped chickadee by Susan M. Smith. It’s one of the best investigations I’ve ever read…and the mystery is that I can never really know that chickadee in my back yard…but then I can never know my neighbor next door either. These are mysteries and I’m glad for poetry and haiku that can perhaps bring us to a different angle…albeit just different…and yet so many other different angles at this “knowing” business too.

  67. I think it’s remarkable we are debating the existence of a gap between us and nature. I suppose some other group of animals is engaging in a similar conversation in a language we can’t decipher, but I doubt that.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to become one with nature in order to write a good haiku. I respect the naturalistic observations in the haiku of Allan Burns and H. Gene Murtha. Although I don’t share their particular focus on the natural world (I’m not a birdwatcher but I like watching birds, and do care that different bird species raise their tails differently), I think they would agree it’s important to avoid the false notes caused by attributing imaginary or human characteristics to animals, plants, etc., a ploy I encounter too often for my tastes. One alternative is to use conjecture, as in this haiku by John Stevenson:

    peony bud
    can an ant

  68. you have to become one with nature, and most poets do not write Nature poems. They write poems that include nature. The average poet’s mindset is not there. Another issue is, you have to understand how-to read a haiku. I believe that Wills understood this:

    first light
    slow to rise
    a pheobe’s tail

    [I forget where this was published?]

    first warm day
    a hermit thrush
    pumps its tail

    {originally published The Heron’s Nest.

  69. Where I live there is this really wonderful trout brook with several waterfalls…ancient mill foundations …ravines etc. I love to go to this place called Whetstone Brook. It got that name since the American Indians used to trade the stones here all the way to Detroit! When John and I first found it it had been left to be quite wild with just enough access to get through. John loved to paint it, and I have several times. The last year or so there have been some folks who have decided they would like to make it into a park. I watch with amusement as they do all sorts of things to this place…some helpful, but for the most part like giving a dog a hair cut that’t too short and trimming its ears and tail. Still, as I walk the paths along the
    ravine there is this sense that the brook is an entity unto itself.
    It will be itself…no matter what anyone wants to do to it short of blowing the whole thing up. I receive a great deal of comfort in
    watching the tug of war about what the brook will be. And in the end, as long as there is rain that brook will be water going over the falls, on its way to the sea no matter what. It is “the other” to me. And yet how is it that it gives me comfort?

  70. Peter asks “is it possible to portray Nature ‘as she is?’”
    There are two kinds of Nature: tamed and untamed. The untamed Nature of wilderness, uninhabited areas and the tamed Nature of parks, gardens, farmland. Each has provided inspiration for writers, and, as a haiku poet, I don’t limit myself to one or the other. Even when writing about tamed Nature, such as a flower in a well tended garden, I try to write about that particular flower which is growing according to its own genetics. If we write what we see, not what we imagine or would like to see or give the natural world human feelings and characteristics, then, yes, I think it is possible to portray Nature “as she is.”


  71. Hi, Paul, You’re right – the Oliver poem is not haiku – but it’s funny how things come together. I just went in for a cup of tea before getting down to “work” and was reviewing Issa’s Untidy Hut: 2nd Annual Basho Haiku Challenge and the first haiku there was as follows:

    But like a
    Sacred Song
    It pointed the way
    by Yosano Akiko
    translated by Dennis Maloney

    And Cherie – I love the way you bring walking/meditation/pathways together in a rhythm …
    within and without all of us… I almost hear the beating of the heart of the universe in what you write. Many thanks.

  72. “A single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a simple thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts that will dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau

    Writing haiku helps me to center my mind much the same as a walk in the woods. Each visit deepens that path to the source of authenticity. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” William Shakespeare (Troilus and Cressida, iii, 3) Nature is within and without all of us. It’s both a starting point and an endpoint.

  73. To continue the conversation, Christopher: In my own view the distinction between human civilization and nature isn’t absolute, but it is “meaningful”. Civilization has been hammered out of the “raw materials” of nature. We don’t create ex nihilo; like your wasps, we reshape. But we do so on a completely different scale than the wasps do and in so many different ways at once, not merely one. As I’ve said before, I do think there’s an important distinction between, say, a wilderness area and downtown L.A.. To call both “nature” seems to me dangerous, esp. in political terms. How can environmentalists fight to preserve “nature” if parking lots and golf courses and shopping malls are as much “nature” as meadows and forests and marshes? And what word could we use to take the place of “nature” to conceptualize the difference? So I think there are important distinctions between the following categories:

    1) materiality: all matter
    2) nature: matter relatively unmodified by human activity
    3) civilization: matter extensively modified by human activity

    Obviously, what we’re dealing with in terms of 2 & 3 is more like a continuum than a set of absolute distinctions. We could, for instance, talk about pastoral zones in between categories 2 and 3. And at this point it’s hard to find matter on the surface of the Earth that hasn’t been modified to some degree through human activity. As you may well know, studies have shown that even penguins at the poles have been found to have pesticide concentrations in their bodies. And all that is what Marlene Mountain was getting at with her “less and less nature is nature”. But shouldn’t we work to preserve something of what is left? Maybe as much as possible?

    Recognizing significant relative distinctions–like to what degree matter has been transformed from its original state into something else–is really just, I would argue, facing the facts, not idealizing or Romanticizing things. In order for us to change, we first have to comprehend what we are doing to the world and what changes in our own values, behavior, and lifestyles can bring about a healthier, more sustainable, less damaging state of affairs. But I see no incentive to change anything we’re doing if we are unable to draw a meaningful distinction between a meadow and a parking lot–which is why I think the environmental point relates directly to the argument in your original post.

    To steer this back to haiku: I do like the Paul Reps poem you’ve cited, particularly when viewed in historical context. It’s interesting to compare it with one from the current Montage gallery by Caroline Gourlay:

    April breeze–
    branches of the ash tree
    rearrange the sky

    In the Reps the subjective human perspective is explicit whereas here it is implicit. I tend to prefer the subtlety of the latter approach, which conveys a sense of ”self-and-object-as-one”. In “April breeze” the rearrangement of the sky is effected by the trees but noted only by the human observer; all are part of a larger unity. That’s a perspective that I think can help get us out of our current predicament of being at odds rather in harmony with the world around us. The more we tend in this direction, the better, I think, things will go in the long run for us and biodiversity and all the rest of the world.

  74. Hi Merrill,

    I may have written too quickly. My point was that I prefer to separate the act of living an open-to-experience life from the act of writing haiku. Oliver’s delightful poem is a good example of that (thanks for sharing). She is open to the world, but her poem isn’t a haiku. I think to write haiku you need to be open to the world, and as Alan and Eric Annan (I’m thinking of his book the Wordless Poem) rightly suggest there are a fair number of parallels between a Zen-like openness and what I want in my haiku, but the act of one isn’t the act of the other. I notice a lot of little connections and have a lot of little epiphanies without feeling the need to write a poem about them, so the two must be separate. At least for me.

    And perhaps that’s the thing. I view poetry as an active process. I take in a discovery/observation/etc.., and then I decide to write a poem about it. Some poems seem to write themselves, but I view that as still being done by some internal part of me. For others perhaps the writing of the poem is a gift from some other voice, be it God or Grace or… so they feel the two acts are one. Who am I to say otherwise.

  75. Hi Allan,

    You make 5 excellent points. I am not unaware of the immense damage humanity has caused to the environment though.

    Two examples like that from the UK (where I live) include:

    1) the extinction of all wild bears and wolves here caused by hunters etc.

    2) the massive population of grey squirrels (accidentally introduced here from North America) which has almost driven the native red squirrel to extinction.

    I agree with you that human domination / destruction of the environment should not be left unchecked – it seems out of control and extremely damaging both to the environment and to our own species. However, this wasn’t really my original point.

    What I was trying to say is that I don’t know how possible it is to make a meaningful distinction between humanity (civilisation) and Nature. The more one tries to define it the more it seems to become a wild goose chase…

    I chose the example of the wasps very specifically as unlike beavers or birds, and other such animals, they do not make their homes out of unrefined natural materials – rather, they break the wood down and change its substance to build their homes. This is a closer parallel to the human process of construction. By drawing this parallel I was attempting to highlight how blurry distinctions, of the sort we are discussing, can be. There are probably much better ways of demonstrating this, but this was all that came to mind at short notice.

    I think you were right to say “At the very least, our civilization is an unprecedented force on this planet” but I don’t think that this, or anything else we have discussed, points towards a significant gap between humanity and Nature.

    As far as I can see the distinction seems only to be possible under an idealised, or even romanticised, conception of what nature is, one which omits important truths in order to maintain its “boundaries”. I come at this from the point of view of someone who previously believed there was a distinction, but the more I reflect on it now the harder I feel it is to make any such distinction.

    I am open to any suggestion you may have to the contrary, so feel free to discuss it with me further.

    I’m not quite at the point where I would say there’s no distinction with certainty, but I think, as I originally said, that there’s a good case for saying there isn’t a real distinction.

    Again, though, I say that this doesn’t reflect an attitude that humans are right to treat the environment as they do – I feel that this was somehow construed out of my original statement on here.

    Anyway, I still feel that that haiku by Paul Reps constitutes a strong example of depicting Nature closer to being “as it is”, for the reasons I previously mentioned.

    Merrill, I am not religious but I very much enjoyed the poem in your above comment (it certainly doesn’t have to be understood from within a religious context). I think it sums up a great deal of what haiku is about.

  76. Gabi – We had a sky just like that today. It was gorgeous…but it forcasts a storm brewing… Hope you have fair weather.
    Paul – I understand your feeling about a state being does not write the haiku. I’d like to submit a poem by Mary Oliver that my Priest sent to us in our newsletter:
    by Mary Oliver

    It doesn’t have to be
    the blue iris, it could be
    weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
    small stones; just
    pay attention, then patch

    a few words together and don’t try
    to make them elaborate, this isn’t
    a contest but a doorway

    into thanks, and a silence in which
    another voice may sing
    To write a prayer or a poem that means something to the human condition is to put into words the state of one’s being.
    I don’t know any other way of expressing it. I have long felt that the sanctity of words stems from and is sanctified by the “truth” one is trying to express. To me “truth” is the state of being…
    This is a long standing debate but I feel that a large difficulty with a world that does not understand the sanctity of words is one of the largest problems we face today. Love, respect, peace ….how do you express these things?

  77. ‘How much is written about nature as somebody has portrayed her, how little about Nature as she is, and chiefly concerns us.’”

    not only does Thoreau anthropomorphize Nature, he
    speaks of Nature as a “she”, something “Other” than himself
    (particularly in context of the mid-19th century).

    don’t want to get into all that is involved with this, as there is way too much literature out there on the concept of
    the Other and the engendering of Nature as female in relation to patriarchial cultures, to rehash it here.

    I love Thoreau, and I personally do not buy into the essentializing that shapes much of the eco-feminists’ viewpoints, but, for me, the framing of the question–
    ” is it possible to portray Nature “as she is”? ”
    already answers itself

  78. There are a lot of answers to this Montage’s question. A lot of directions to take. Our relationship with Nature is a complex one. One I’ll comment on is that I find in nature a perfect foil for my own activities. Nature often makes me question why I do certain things. I have used this old poem of mine as an example of this:

    below the falls –
    a stepping stone
    just out of reach

    This is a poem about faith–my lack of it. Of course streams don’t really have faith, or any emotions or even motivations; but in this instance I perceive the stream being fearless, jumping over the falls as if it were the safest and most natural thing in the world. It makes me wonder why I hesitate to jump to that stepping stone, regardless of how stable or safe it is.

  79. The Japanese do have the phrase “haiku no michi” (“way of haiku”). Often, this idea of haiku as a “way” is connected to the practice of Buddhism. Of course, the extent to which haiku is related or indebted to concepts such as “mindfulness”, “present-moment awareness”, “the suchness of things”, transience, and what Bashō called butsuga ichniyo (“self-and-object-as-one”) is complex and highly controversial, even politicized, territory. So much depends on what one emphasizes and what evidence one points to or ignores. What I’ve always found is that this connection is typically downplayed by haikuists and scholars who aren’t practicing Buddhists and of great importance to those who are. In English, for instance, James W. Hackett published his collected work under the title The Way of Haiku (1969).

    To bring this back to one of Peter’s questions–“do we seek, bridging the gap between Nature and human nature, to write as or perhaps through her?”–I do feel that a Buddhist emphasis on selflessness and oneness with the cosmos provides a way of “bridging the gap” between humans and nature, created by our modern industrialized civilization and the ideologies lying behind it.

    To close, here are some things Bashō said:

    “Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.”

    “The basis of art is change in the universe [i.e., transience].”

    “The secret of art lies in treading the middle path between the reality and vacuity of the world.”

    “Composition much occur in an instant [like satori]….”

    “It is admirable to have an undistracted mind….”

    “One needs to work to achieve enlightenment and then return to the ordinary world.”

  80. I would suggest that this “way of seeing and being, a philosophy of life in which one dedicates one’s self to noticing…” (see David’s full quote in Merrill’s comment above) has nothing to do with haiku. Being open to life and the various interconnections therein is simply a way of living. We then chose to express what we have discovered “though” haiku–which is a form of poetry. I’m not comfortable elevating haiku to a religion or philosophy.

  81. autumn sky –
    my haiku blown away
    by the wind

    sometimes nature is bigger than any haiku we could attempt to write about it. … grin ..

    Click on my name to share my skywalk.


  82. Today I received “paper moon” a collection of children’s haiku published by Friends of School of theArts, Rochester, NY
    (many thanks Tom Painting.) Inside there is a statement by David G. Lanoue that seems to speak to this issue:

    “Haiku is a posture, a way of seeing and being, a philosphy of life in which one dedicates one’s self to noticing, not ignoring; to being open not closed; to discovering, not defining; to inviting meaning onto the page, never imposing it.
    Poets of haiku peer expectantly into the momebts and moods of this universe of which we are all part, ready always to be startled, to receive with open eyes the measures and enigmas that others miss in their rush through traffic and life.”
    —David G. Lanoue

    When I read the haiku these children are writing…it reminds me of the quote so often credited to Picaso. He said he spent a lifetime trying to paint like a child. Haiku for me restores the wonder of childhood.

  83. “less and less nature is nature”
    (Marlene Mountain, Pissed Off Poems and Cross Words, 1986)

    Although it’s true that other species impact and modify the environment, such as birds building nests and beavers building dams, usw, the impact of humans obviously differs from that of other species in both degree and kind. This issue of what is nature and what is not has been debated on the blog before, so I’ll simply quickly point out a number of ways in which human impact differs from that of other species:

    1) The development of language has allowed humans to coordinate efforts on a scale completely unknown to other species.

    2) Humans are the only species that cause rapid mass extinctions of a wide range of other species and pose an ongoing threat to biodiversity.

    3) Humans radically modify entire habitats and ecosystems, making them unsuitable for nearly all natural inhabitants and often introducing other invasive species in the process (e.g., cockroaches, Norway rats, house sparrows, European starlings, gypsy moths, kudzu, etc. etc.). One ex. of an annihilated habitat: the Mississippi Dead Zone, a lifeless area of up to 22,000 square kilometers (i.e., the size of New Jersey) at the mouth of the Mississippi River, has been caused principally by fertilizers, livestock waste, and sewage. There are at least 145 more such dead zones around the world, likewise caused by human activity.

    4) Humans alter the environment through the introduction of decidedly unnatural pollutants, including pesticides, petroleum spills, industrial waste, heavy metals, and radioactive materials, all of which can be fatal to us and other species. Consider that the Exxon Valdez spill alone killed half a million seabirds, about a thousand otters, and billions of fish–and its effects continue twenty yrs after the fact.

    5) The scale and rapidity of human impacts can be gauged from the fact that when European settlers first came to North America, the most common bird species occupying this land was the passenger pigeon, numbering in the billions. Today, the passenger pigeon is completely extinct, due solely to human activity, and introduced species such as house sparrow and European starling rank among the ten most populous bird species on the continent. This is just one concrete ex. Anyone looking for an in-depth study of European settlement on New World species should consult Peter Matthiessen’s devastating Wildlife in America (1959, rev. 1987).

    Given these differences, their extent, and their rapidity, I would argue that it is necessary to categorize human activity as a different order from that of nature per se, even though humans originated from nature. At the very least, our civilization is an unprecedented force on this planet. So to answer one of Peter’s questions, yes, I think there is a quite significant “gap” between humans and nature.

    I believe haiku can engage the environmental situation both explicitly (as Marlene Mountain does, above) or implicitly, in nature-oriented work that simply values and endeavors to heighten awareness of “natural” (as opposed to “built”) environments and their characteristics and denizens. Many of the haiku in the current Montage gallery and previous ones could serve as exs., such as this by John Barlow:

    early June–
    the chack of a ring ouzel
    and tormentil everywhere

    Writing a haiku is obviously not going to change the world, but it can be both a symbolic gesture and, potentially, a gateway for expanding the awareness of others.

  84. I find more inclusive definitions of Nature more appealing, so it could happily include human experience within its broader regions (though it’s a good question whether Nature includes human civilisation. In my view there’s certainly a good case for saying “well, why wouldn’t it?”. Many tend to think our civilisation is something apart from nature – particularly because we alter natural materials into substances which do not “naturally” occur. However, are we the only species to do this? How much difference is there between a wasp, chewing wood and then regurgitating it as a papery substance to build a nest, and a human combining combining simple elements to create bricks? We consider a wasp nest a part of nature, so why not consider a human abode a part of nature – even if made of concrete and steel?).

    In any case, given this expansive definition I find that the following is an excellent example of portraying Nature “as she is”:

    walking through the forest
    I rearrange
    the trees

    – Paul Reps

    I think this highlights the relationship between subject and object, closely examining the role of perception.

    By way of drawing attention to the complex interrelations of both the objective world with itself and also the objective world with the subjective world, it creates a simultaneously subjective and objective viewpoint. Thus we are given the subjective experience of the objective and the objective experience of the subjective.

    On these grounds I find something really wholistic about this “haiku” which speaks a clear truth about reality (Nature) in the broad sense. The poet has made an object of his subjectivity, providing an ultimately objective account of Nature. This would appear to be Nature “as she is”.

  85. When I come across a haiku in nature, it is usually something in nature that brings to light that it seems to portray. The thing that makes me notice – to become aware – of something deeper, some connection, to say something that can not be said. I can only hope that the reader of the haiku will have had the same experience or that it brings something to their understanding as well. For an example, I came across this bluebird sitting on top of a milkweed plant on my way home from he Falls one day. The pods had burst and the seeds were drifting on the breeze.

    milkweed days
    drifting on a breeze to grow
    on a new path

    I used it for a haiga that was published in Reeds: Contemporary Haiga 2006. The image I had seen seemed to bring into focus the decision I was about to make. I don’t think I anthropomorphized the milkweed…it was just that we were both drifting on a breeze that day.

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