In the trembling grey of a spring dawn, when the birds were whispering in mysterious cadence among the trees, have you not felt that they were talking to their mates about the flowers?”
“True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally complete the incomplete.”
“The tea-master, Kobori-Enshiu, himself a daimyo, has left to us these memorable words: “Approach a great painting as thou wouldst approach a great prince.” In order to understand a masterpiece, you must lay yourself low before it and await with bated breath its least utterance.”
Wow, ad infinitum!
Proper review (more or less):
“Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”
Beautiful writing all around. In terms of prose, it has to be the best Japanese book I have read. Okakura’s purpose is to show west the depth of thought that is contained in the simplicity of Eastern culture, Teaism in particular. Teaism is a culture/lifestyle in Japan which values things like modesty, simplicity etc – in many ways very opposite of consumerism that plagues the present-day world. Besides general history of tea and Teaism, the author discusses a bunch of other subjects – such as need of a dialogue between West and East, religions (Taoism, Buddhism, Jainism etc), flowers, poetry, translation, philosophy, art, aesthetics, architecture etc within a very short space and without ever discarding his beautiful prose.
“The ancient sages never put their teachings in systematic form. They spoke in paradoxes, for they were afraid of uttering half-truths. They began by talking like fools and ended by making their hearers wise. Laotse himself, with his quaint humour, says, “If people of inferior intelligence hear of the Tao, they laugh immensely. It would not be the Tao unless they laughed at it.”
“Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade- all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design.”
“One day Soshi was walking on the bank of a river with a friend. ‘How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!’ exclaimed Soshi. His friend spake to him thus: ‘You are not a fish; how do you know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?’ ‘You are not myself’, returned Soshi; ‘how do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?'”
An eminent Sung critic once made a charming confession. Said he: “In my young days I praised the master whose pictures I liked, but as my judgement matured I praised myself for liking what the masters had chosen to have me like.”
“The primeval man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby transcended the brute. He became human in thus rising above the crude necessities of nature. He entered the realm of art when he perceived the subtle use of the useless.”
“Man at ten is an animal, at twenty a lunatic, at thirty a failure, at forty a fraud, and at fifty a criminal.”
“Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing in the garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the dews and sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom that awaits you? Dream on, sway and frolic while you may in the gentle breeze of summer. To-morrow a ruthless hand will close around your throats. You will be wrenched, torn asunder limb by limb, and borne away from your quiet homes. The wretch, she may be passing fair. She may say how lovely you are while her fingers are still moist with your blood…It may even be your lot to be confined in some narrow vessel with only stagnant water to quench the maddening thirst that warns of ebbing life.”