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Zeami Motokiyo a.k.a. Kanze Motokiyo (1363-1443)
Greetings Good Travelers and Wayfarers.
There are so many Wayfarers of the past that deserve a mention on The Poet’s Dreamingbody, whose paths were undoubtedly oriented to the Wayfaring Life, but who aren’t slotted to become a stand-alone Wayfaring Poet Profile in this first phase of the podcast. One of these is Zeami Motokiyo (世阿弥 元清).
Motokiyo was an innovator of Noh (a classical form of dance-drama-storytelling in Japan — often with distinctive masks — that inspired such Western poets as Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats).
He was a prolific and celebrated playwright who wrote over 50 plays. He was a lay Zen monk, and a scholar-practitioner who cultivated a deep life-embodiment of various aesthetic principles inseparable from most of the Wayfarers such as wabi (rustic, solitary living in nature, remote from society, with full comprehension of the transience of life) and sabi (lean, minimalism, voluntary simplicity).
Another one of these core aesthetic principles that guided Motokiyo’s life is yūgen (幽玄), which sometimes translates as “mysterious”, “deep”, “awe-inspiring”, “non-obvious”, or “grace and subtlety” — a quality that pervades many of the Japanese arts.
If we look at the actual kanji of this term yūgen, we get a bit more insight into the term: (幽 - secluded, confined to a room, deep, profound tranquility, calm; and, 玄 - mysterious). In essence, yūgen could be said to be a state of consciousness or even a practice — one of withdrawing from the mundane world and entering the ineffable.
Yūgen is sometimes said to be ‘that which is felt but cannot be said’. In a sense, this term yūgen points to the ever-present Taoist, Zen, and poetic conundrum:
We have a profound experience — deep, mysterious, awe-inspiring. However, human language and artistic expression fall short of expressing the fullness or totality of the profundity of the experience.
The opening line of the Tao Te Ching (a root text of the Taoist tradition that shaped so much of Zen) even says: “The Tao (Way or Path) that can be expressed is not the Eternal Tao (Way or Path).”
Yet, in the words of the late Sōtō Zen master Dainin Katagiri (1928-1990), “You have to say something.”
So, Zeami Motokiyo is one of these Wayfarers of the past who experienced the profundity of Nature, poetry, artistry, the interconnectedness of humanity, and heart-mind embedded within The Created, and — knowing full well the inherent limitations of expression…expressed nonetheless. Here is but one of his many quotes:
If you’d like to learn more about the life and writings of Zeami Motokiyo, I highly recommend William Scott Wilson’s translation of The Spirit of Noh: A New Translation of the Classic Noh Treatise, the Fushikaden on Shambhala Publications.
To explore the soundworld in the background of this post, visit Roy Mattson’s album MESMER