Poetic Investigations

Tom D'Evelyn on Poetry and Its Others (philosophy, theology, poetics)

Buson’s Chisel Splendid in the Tao

Here’s a haiku by Buson (1716-1783) by W. S. Merwin and Takako Lento from Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson (Copper Canyon Press 2113), p 102:


A stonemason
cools his chisel
in the clear spring

The world is full of things like chisels. Tools. We rarely look at them for themselves; they are extensions of our intentions. But things are capable of being removed — I almost said removing themselves — from that zone and into another where they show off another dimension of their being.

Buson captures this other dimension in a very particular way. The cooling of the chisel, which had grown hot with use and needed a break (unless it should break?), transforms it for a split second, but not into something other exactly. There is nothing exact about it. That’s the point, perhaps: the chisel-self (think of Hopkins’s “inscape” and then see the difference between Buson and the Jesuit poet) in the medium of the cooling clear water of the spring is itself somehow cool, somehow clear, and somehow part of the “origin” itself as much as the spring itself may be, or may be seen to beRoadside Beauty with Pond in Background.

Buson was steeped in Taoist classics like the Zhuangzi, so he knew, rationally as it were, about relativity and transformation and the fluid transparency (universality) of the Tao.

We may say this haiku “finesses” the difference between the chisel — a very thingy thing, a classic “univocal” object — and the Tao itself. In its journey into the metaxy, the chisel has passed through its own making in the forge, through its usefulness to the stonemason and the relationship — intimate AND hierarchical — of the tool in mankind’s culture, and then, miraculously as it were, into the kindly realm of the agapeic metaxy, where all the perspectives are preserved in a distance called by theologians “beauty.”

Seeing the chisel wavering under the flowing clear water makes us see it differently, perhaps “profoundly” in Baudelaire’s sense, radiant with “correspondences” within the totality of original creation. The haiku performs “metaxyturn” on the stonemason’s chisel, showing it in the metaxy where “use” is fulfilled in agapeic presence.







2 comments on “Buson’s Chisel Splendid in the Tao

  1. husmde
    August 28, 2014

    lovely! In the image of the chisel cooling we see how ‘use’ is fulfilled in the agapeics of rest as the between-between active and passive, object and subject, hot and cool–and we may start to see how rest and act are not really simple diametric opposites.


  2. Tom D'Evelyn
    November 12, 2014

    Reblogged this on Ecotone poetics.


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This entry was posted on August 27, 2014 by in Buson, Finesse, immanence, metaxyturn, origin, Tao, The Origins of the Work of Art.
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