Aware Pronounced ‘ah wah ray.’ Sensitivity or emotional receptivity. A sensitivity that is informed by an internal knowledge of the ephemeral quality of natural beauty.
Fueki Ryuko ‘Constancy and change.’ The enduring patterns in the ever changing stream of nature. Sometimes understood to be the eternal truths that poets try to communicate.
Fuga The elegance of poetry. Fuga is made up of two root words: ‘Fu’ which means the habits and manners of the common folk and ‘Ga’ which refers to the grace or gracefulness of ceremonies at court. Ga is in the qualities achieved by a poet who is experienced, recognized, and advanced in artistic studies. English words that convey a similar quality are ‘cultured’ or ‘civilized’. The renowned Japanese court poets tried to express ga with idealized and romanticized images. Thus ga is sometimes thought of as artistic and spiritual purity. With this in mind we might translate fuga as ‘common ways with grace’, or ‘blue-jean eloquence’ or even ‘spiritual art grounded in reality.’ Writers who wished to create literature that was fuga would follow furyu and retire to nature for solitary contemplation.
Furyu Literally ‘wind and stream’ or ‘in the way of the wind and stream.’ A way of living that gradually expands your sense of beauty, taste, and aesthetic appreciation. The poet Yosa Buson re-introduced Basho’s concept of furyu after it had fallen out of use. A master of both poetry and painting, and a leader of the haiku revival that occurred between 1765 and 1785, Buson refocused Basho’s concept in what he called ‘the principle of rizoku,’ which meant ‘transcending the ordinary.’ To achieve transcendence Buson said a poet should study classical verse, distance herself from the realms of commerce and competition, and contemplate the simple beauties of nature.
Haibun Basho’s famous Narrow Road to the Deep Interior is an example of the literary style called haibun. Haibun in a broader sense existed before Basho in the form of prefaces, notes accompanying hokku, and short essays written by haiku masters. Basho decided to use this combination of prose and poetry for something more substantial than simple explanation and exposition. He experimented with this form throughout his life, but it was not until after his noted journey to Mutsu that he consciously developed it into a new genre in an attempt to deepen the expression of the haiku spirit. He coined the word haibun and it is the extrapolation of Basho’s haibun form that provides the theoretical underpinnings for Wabi Sabi for Writers.
Karumi Karumi was the most notable characteristic of Basho’s mature style. Karumi literally means a ‘light beauty with subtlety’ and was a quality Basho saw in higher levels of sabi. With karumi the loneliness of sabi opens into a contented acceptance. When asked to describe karumi Basho said it was a “shallow river over a sandy bed.”
Mono no aware Literally ‘sensitivity to things,’ Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), carefully scrutinized the 4,500 poems in the classic text Collection of Myriad Leave made at the beginning of the Heian period and concluded that the quality unifying these poems was a sensitivity to things in nature and the transient beauty of such things. He declared this concept to be absolutely central to the Japanese national character.
Sabi Sabi describes an object or setting which evokes a receptive state of mind, usually with a melancholy feeling that is pleasurable. Sometimes sabi refers to the quality of character obtained with age, or courage in the face of the change. It generally is experienced when alone, or evoked in objects which convey loneliness or solitude. See this longer post for a more detailed discussion of sabi.
Wabi Literally ‘poverty.’ Wabi has come to mean freedom from the distractions of affluence, freedom from the glut of possessions, and release into appreciation of simpler things.
Wabi Sabi A kind of beauty that exists in weathered or worn objects that contain deep patterns, patina, character, or qualities of authentic individuality. People who appreciate such beauty recognize that nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished. Nature is in constant change but within this every changing kaleidoscope is a constant elegance. Fueki Ryuko describes this aspect of wabi sabi objects. If this aesthetic is acknowledged and cultivated it provides a balance to the frenetic pace of modern life and affords freedom from the distractions of affluence. By noticing every priceless moment this way of looking at the world produces a lovely lonely mood or melancholy feeling. In its fullest and most expansive form it involved a clarity of perception in which a person sees a thing for what it is without feeling any need to repair or arrest the effects of time, experience, or age. Wabi Sabi sits at the centre of a way of life that moves beyond the pursuit of youth, perfection, and permanence. This way of life was first articulated by the haiku poet Basho and developed into the “Way of Elegance.”
Way of Elegance From two Japanese words michi (way or path) and fuga (the elegance of poetry). The elegance referred to in this phrase involves a combination of courtly grace and rural charm. Think of the well educated farmer. The Way of Elegance involves following furyu, and practicing artistic expression as a form of spiritual discipline.
Yugen Pronounced “You Gain.” The word most often associated with wabi sabi refers to a deep mystery behind or beneath things. Several large volumes in Japanese are devoted to this word, particularly in relation to the Noh drama. A haiku contains yugen when it suggests subtle profundity or hints at a meaning beyond words. Yugen can not be described directly but emerges from a poem that captures the surface of a moment through which the deeper, often darker, wonder is glimpsed.

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