Poetry Encounters Science (2)

Kenji's opulent use of geological, meteorological, and botanical terms in the first part of his collection of poetry, "Spring and Ashura," astonished the literati of his day.
In a letter to a young friend of his, Kenji described "Spring and Ashura" as "mental sketches" that were "equipment for a psychological undertaking." One hypothesis that can be formulated about this "psychological undertaking" is that it is "an exploration of the spacio-temporal aspect of mentality."
Psychology for Kenji meant scientific research into the workings of the mind. While the first part of "Spring and Ashura" is a collection of poems, at the same time they can be perceived as mental sketches that enable "exploration of the spacio-temporal aspect of mentality" to scientifically research the workings of the mind.
Kenji makes free use of geological and meteorological terms to portray the spacio-temporal aspect of mentality. In other words, terminology from the natural sciences is turned to metaphorical use in these poems or preliminary scientific excursions into the heart. In this unique way, Kenji diverted scientific terms from their ordinary sense not as a display of eccentricity, rather we recognize his brilliant creativity in their use as a natural means of linking disparate realms.

The space-time aspect Kenji sensed was remarkably different from homogenous space-time in classical physics. He felt that there is a space-time different from the one we humans experience during our lives on earth, that can be accessed through something akin to a spacio-temporal depression, and he felt that he had entered into this other space. "Indra's Net" is an example of a realistic depiction of entering into another space. In "Solvent in the Void," a poem in slapstick style, the characters are sucked into another space by the action of a vacuum. In "Night on the Milky Way Train," which tells the story of a trip in another space, Giovanni travels through the Milky Way on the Milky Way Train and then comes back to earth through "coal sacks," that form something like a black hole.

It is likely that the mental spacio-temporal sense of entering into an alien space and time as opposed to uniform space-time (in physics) is also closely connected to Kenji's frequent experience of visions (hallucinations). These visions left Kenji distressed, but in some cases also made possible encounters with blessed beings who appeared in them. For example, in "Koiwai Farm," one of the representative poems in the first part of "Spring and Ashura," Kenji comes across Juria and Pempel, who he envisaged as archetypal beings. He writes Juria, Pempel, my far off friends / What a long time it has been / since I last saw your great, pure-white feet / How I have searched for your footprints of long ago / on ancient Cretaceous shale shores and ties this image of archetypal beings that appear from the inner recesses of his mind to a geological age before mankind appeared on the earth. In other words, it is likely that Kenji conceived a "geology of the mind" in which archetypal images are excavated that open the door to long-lost memories that well up from the depths of the mind. In "Aomori Elegy," blessed creatures in the ethereal regions are depicted as "beings with giant bare feet," although it is not known whether they are the same sort of beings as Juria and Pempel. "Aomori Elegy," dated the year following the death of Kenji's sister Toshi during a journey he took to the north in which he seemed to be chasing her shadow, relentlessly tracks the places he feels his sister has gone. He employs the following phrase to describe [beings in] the heavenly realm, where he senses she has gone wearing jeweled necklaces or mysterious gauze raiment / without changing place, yet quietly coming and going / beings with giant bare feet by which we know that Kenji felt that these blessed archetypal beings were also to be found in the heavens. We can see from the story "Shining Bare Feet" that Kenji associated these beings with shining white bare feet with tathagata (Buddha).

Geological terms are frequently employed as metaphors in Kenji's poetry and stories. What we want to consider in particular is the metaphor "excavation," not only when it is used to relate the past from a present perspective, but Kenji's frequent use of the term when talking about the future or an other heavenly space that can seemingly take its place.

For example, in the final part of the "Introduction to Spring and Ashura" For all I know in two thousand years from now / A much different geology will be diverted / -- / And rising scholars will excavate superb fossils / From regions glittering of iced nitrogen / In the very upper reaches of the atmosphere / Or they might just stumble / Upon the giant footsteps of translucent man / In a stratification plane of Creataceous sandstone (Excerpt of a translation of "Introduction to Spring and Ashura" by Roger Pulvers, from Kenji Miyazawa Poems, Chikuma Bunko) the metaphor "excavate" is used to speak of the future. In the future, they will be excavating not on earth but in "the upper reaches of the atmosphere."

In the chapter about the "Pliocene Coast" in "Night on the Milky Way Train," the image of excavating in the upper reaches of the atmosphere shifts to a scene on the bank of a river in the Milky Way where a scholar [is directing his assistants in] digging up the bones of the ancestors of cows. This is a variation of an experience Kenji had, related in the story "The English Seaside," digging walnut fossils and cloven hoof marks out of a stratum of mudstone.
We can see that the excavations in "Introduction to Spring and Ashura" two thousand years hence in "the upper reaches of the atmosphere" have been moved to an other space in the heavens in "Night on the Milky Way Train," so that in Kenji's mental space-time the future "two thousand years from now" can be transferred to a heavenly other space with which it shares a topological-space relationship.

In "Indra's Net," "I" wander from the human realm of Tsera Plateau into a "heavenly space" and encounter children of heaven. In "Koiwai Farm," these children of heaven appear in a vision and, like Juria and Pempel, are for Kenji a kind of archetypal image of blessed beings that appear in his visions. And we expect, the vision of the children of heaven in "Koiwai Farm" emerges in a form that suggests geological time.
These children of heaven are related to the "beings with giant bare feet" in that they also appear in a "heavenly space" as a vision of archetypal blessed beings from the depths of ancient consciousness.

In his poems and stories, Kenji links these children of heaven witharcheological excavations.
The children of heaven who appear in "Indra's Net" and "The Wild Goose Child" are the children of heaven depicted in the cave painting excavated in the desert. In preliminary version A of "Koiwai Farm," "I" call to the children of heaven who appear in a vision I see you are in the style of Gandhara / in Taklamakan desert / I saw an ancient fresco / of ones who looked just like you The "ancient fresco in Taklamakan desert" is thought to be patterned after the fresco of winged angels discovered in Miran by Sir Aurel Stein. The children of heaven in "Indra's Net" are the children of heaven depicted in the fresco that the main character, "I," excavated. In "The Wild Goose Child," at the end of the story the goose child returns to heaven after he sees the wall painting of the child of heaven excavated from the desert, and it is revealed that Suriya Kei, who raises the child entrusted to him by the goose grandfather, was the child's father in a previous life and painted the excavated fresco. So it is of obvious importance that the children of heaven in Kenji's poems and stories are linked to the fresco excavated in the desert.

The story of the fresco of winged angels excavated in the Taklamakan desert is closely connected with the history of Mahayana Buddhism and the fact that Kenji linked this event with his own vision of archetypal images of children of heaven attests to the strong impression it made on him. Here we see a corresponding relationship between a specimen that is important in the consideration of past history excavated from an ancient geological stratum, and an archetypal image stored in the inner recesses of the mind that appears in the form of a vision.

As these examples show, geological and archeological metaphors are for Kenji an indispensable method by which to express the spacio-temporal mental aspect.

Poetry Encounters Science


Humor in Kenji's Stories
Rhythm in Kenji's Stories
Poems and Stories: Gifts of the Stars, Wind, and Animals
Poetry Encounters Science
Poetry Encounters Science (2)
Fantasy as Reality of the Mind
Broadminded Acceptance of Outsiders and Strangers
A Literature for Adolescents
Multiplicity of Meaning in Kenji's Stories
Stories that Examine Ethical Questions
Stories that Examine Ecological Questions
Kenji the Teacher
Kenji the Social Reformer

Who is Kenji Miyazawa? The World of Kenji Miyazawa