through the leaves
weaving a pattern in the wind
blue sky

Ross Coward


This is a refreshing image – the blue sky, cool and spacious, and the wind weaving a pattern through the leaves. The pattern is a dynamic one, ever changing and never repeated; the particular arrangement of leaves, of light shining through and between them, all set in motion by the invisible weave of wind, a new creation moment to moment. There are meditations to be had in such patterns, in all their unfathomable complexity of which nature abounds. And all the while, in the most unobtrusive way, there is a subject here, a mind, not referred to directly but inferred, the poet admiring and appreciating the simple beauty of this scene.

In our communications, I asked the poet if he might tell me a little about this haiku ‘lest my commentary go too far astray’! Again I learned something about the spirit of haiku, for he simply recounted what he saw, what is already best said in the haiku; “We had three lovely silver birch trees in the front garden close to the house. I recall it was a mild sunny spring day and breezy. As I was sitting there silently on the verandah I was catching glimpses of blue sky as the wind blew through the leaves”. I was reminded of the Buddhist story; “before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got to its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”

I imagine our ways of knowing and of relating to the world as children, before the mediation of language and intellectualisation, are more direct. A tree is a tree is a tree. But even in naming things we have already added something the thing-in-itself does not have. Much of our learning takes the form of creating categories, a thing is this and not that. We demarcate sunlight, wind, leaf and self as if they are separate entities, we apply boundaries where there are none. Though there are valuable understandings to be gained in this learning the tree has become something else. What passes for education in our society gives us all kinds of understandings about things but arguably does not give us intimate knowledge. To follow our example here, what we take to be a tree, is somehow immersed in the wholeness of all that is; within the ever changing patterns of life lies the wonder of treeness. There are traditions in various kinds of mysticism and of haiku that seek to approach the essence of things, I wish you well . . .  However, beneath a tree on a breezy day captivated by the play of sunlight through the leaves is as good a place as any to seek such enlightenment.

First published: Famous Reporter 9, June 1994

Selection & comments by Simon Hanson


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