Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Poetry and Suchness: Harbour Tableaux

Harbour Tableaux

The Harbour
is the harbour
framed by the
living room window
a momentary drama
of stillness

The Bridge
is the bridge
despite being raised
by two metres
to allow super-size
container ships
to pass underneath

The Buildings
are the buildings
their human occupants
behind shades
drawn by nightfall

The Trees
are the trees
forecasting by waves
the strength
of the offshore breeze

The Seagulls
are the seagulls
shimmering wings
brush the watercolours
of the morning fog

The Crows
are the crows
shrieks of hunger
calling to mates
interrupt the burbling
of the morning news
on the radio.

quiet, like dark coffee.

This is a different version of the poem than I published at https://roughgarden.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/harbour-tableaux/

The doubling of the subject in the first line of each stanza is actually a poetic example of my recent thoughts on shunyata, as follows:

Form is Emptiness
Emptiness is Form.

Most people get hung up on the words “form” and “emptiness”, wracking their brains trying to figure out what that implies about reality. They are tricked by the two terms, “emptiness” and “form” into thinking that they are two facets of reality, when the dharma also negates that distinction as “dualism.”

Instead, I focus on the “is”. In the English language, “is” means “equivalent to” or “equals.” It could be correctly represented by the math sign = ; the other terms reduced to symbols:

F = E
E = F

Focusing on “is” or =, we see that “F” is “equivalent to”,  “exactly the same as” “E”. There is absolutely no difference between the terms. They are exactly the same thing. We can even get rid of “F” and “E” altogether, because there is no distinction to signify by using different letters. There is no distinction whatever between the two terms, so there is no need to imply a difference. All that’s left is the “is” or = .

In fact, we could also say that:

F = E
E = F

is exactly the same as

F = F
E = E

All four statements are exactly equivalent. There is no distinction to be made between these statements. Therefore there is no distinction to be made between what they represent, what has come to be called “absolute” and “relative” reality. They are exactly the same thing. In fact, we can even get rid of the whole statement altogether, because its superfluous. It’s pointless to make a distinction where there is none.

All that’s left is “is”, or =.

There is only one reality, what I call absolute*relativity, or simply reality, suchness, tathata.

After I wrote the poem, I saw that is was a poetic reflection of what I had been thinking about in my analysis.

The poem is about stillness as the observable surface of an object, and the energy and movement that is hidden within that surface. The bridge is the bridge, yet even in it’s momentary stillness it belies movement: the bridge floor is gradually being raised two metres by a feat of engineering.

The buildings are the buildings. They don’t move in any way that is perceptible (but of course they do move, with the earth), but hidden within them is the potential energy and movement of its human occupants.

So here, saying “the building is the building” is like saying “E = F”, where “E” is the “absolute reality” of the stillness of the building, and “F” is the simultaneous and equivalent reality of potential energy and movement of the building. Or perhaps it’s the other way round. Either way it doesn’t matter because they are absolutely the same. There is no distinction to be made. So to represent that equivalence, and for the purposes of good poetry, I left out the repetition of the subject in the first line and began each stanza with “is”, “are”, the verb to be.

The harbour is the harbour: a tableaux is a form of composition used in photography and theatre that captures a moment of stillness which holds within it huge potential energy for movement.

And so on. The poem is a reflection on stillness, yet within stillness is the potential energy for and the actuality of movement, impermanence and change.




4 comments on “Poetry and Suchness: Harbour Tableaux

  1. scraggyjack

    Dug the poem. The notes are extraneous intellectualization.

    The repetition of the subject in each stanza’s first line emphasizes the strength of the philosophical perception. With the simple facticity of each totality, the reader is startled into a moment of stillness. Going forward from the moment of stillness one appreciates the rest of each stanza.

    My thoughts.

    Phil Kienholz

  2. scraggyjack

    More critical appreciation:

    Stanza 2: “supersize-me” is detractive, better just “supersize.”

    Stanza 3: “their” is unnecessary, but could be retained to emphasize the occupants IN the buildings.

    Stanza 6: again “their” is unnecessary.


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This entry was posted on 2016/09/11 by and tagged .


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