Table of Contents

Welcome to our
Viewing Stones issue

For me, haiku and haiga have been a path that has led to inkbrush painting. Not that I’m any good, mind you, but I love my class and after several years have learned is that what truly fascinates me is landscape painting . As Basho said “Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine.” Conversely, if you want to learn landscape, go to the rocks.

In the first stages of painting rocks In estimating people, their quality of spirit (ch'i) is as basic as the way they are formed. Rocks without ch'i are dead rocks, just as bones without the same vivifying spirit are dry, bare bones. How could a cultivated person paint a lifeless rock? One should certainly never paint rocks without ch'i. To depict rocks with ch'i, it must be sought beyond the material and in the intangible. Nothing is more difficult. If the form of the rock is not clear in one's heart(-mind) and therefore at one's finger tips, the picture can never be completely realized.

~ Mae-mai Sze, ed and tr. The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, (Princeton 2015)

My early efforts seemed to feature cliffs and canyons impatiently sketched with axe-head brushstrokes (I lived in Utah during high school and still have someof the agates, obsidian and trilobites I collected as a member of the rock club). But what draws me now are those lumpy boulders in the bottom foreground that you paint with short-hemp strokes. I download one from the Mustard Seed Garden and practice practice practice till I can sense its ch’i if not yet reproduce on paper. Know these rocks and you really begin to feel the age of the earth.

The planning for this issue began, as it often does, with a search for old master haiku that reflect a chosen theme. Best-known must be this of Basho’s. It’s from Oku no Hosomichi, the Narrow Road to the Deep North, which describes his late afternoon climb to Ryushakuji, a temple perched on a summit of “massive rocks thrown together and covered with age-old pines and oaks. The stony ground itself bore the color of eternity, paved with velvety moss.” The haibun concludes:

deep silence—
the shrill of cicadas
seeps into rocks

~Basho, tr. Gabi Greve

Another famous poem with stone imagery is this by Buson that commemorates a m poem about a willow by the 12th century monk-poet Saigyō. Saigyō's much revered poem that also inspired a Nō play. Basho sought out the tree in 1169 and recorded a honkadori in Narrow Road. I won't quote Saigyō or Basho because neither menntioned stones, but when Buson visited in 1743, the result was this, which he later used in a renku:

The willow leaves fallen
the spring gone dry
rocks here and there.

~Buson, tr. Robert Haas

In her WKD entry on “willow”, Greve recaps Haruo Shriane’s and Earl Miner’s readings of
Buson’s poem, that the poem is about loss and the passage of time. Taking a further step, Stephen Addiss has suggested that Buson is lamenting the decline of a great poetic tradition that ran through Saigyo and Basho, bare and dry in his own day—“no shade from the willow, no clear stream, only rocks”.

So when is a rock not just a rock but an allusion to poetry? Does that go for stones too? I'm wary of parsing to finely because the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but a dictionary search tells me that rocks are rough things while stones tend to be smoothed and shaped, whether by nature or human action. There's also the mindful writing project that refers to short form poems as "small stones".

Thinking what to call this issue, I found that Buson wrote several often dark poems about rocks or stones. Issa, Shiki and Santoka did also, none a particularly good fit. I came upon "Viewing Stones" from quite a different source: it relates to Suiseki (水石), rocks with expressive natural shape, color or texture that may resemble animals or landscapes. "These stones are objects of great beauty," enthused a website devoted to this art, "sophisticated tools for inner reflection that stir in all who see them an appreciation for the awesome power of the universe. A suiseki has the capacity to represent, on a few centimeters, the whole earth and cosmos."

None of the rocks I collected back in high school rises to the level of suiseki, though I still pick up interesting rocks when I'm out on a walk. Do you? Many thanks to our resident staff, and all the authors and artists who have lent small stones for viewing in our issue. Without you, Haigaonline would not be possible.


Linda Papanicolaou

~Yosa Buson, Hanging Scroll (calligraphy by Shibano Ritsuzan)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art