Poems About Life: Main Homepage   Nature Poetry and the Human World, link. Nature scene of rocks, plants and water. Identified as Lake Saimaa in Finland.


 

Flower in the Crannied Wall

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little floweróbut if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.  


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As the Zen mystic D. T. Suzuki pointed out, Flower in the Crannied Wall
by Alfred Lord Tennyson says a great deal about the way the West approaches nature, and the difference between the West and some Eastern traditions. Here is a description from
philosophicalsociety.com:

Consider the manner in which two exceptional poets describe an ordinary flower. Here's the haiku of Basho, a Japanese scribe of the 17th century:

When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
By the hedge!

Here are the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies; --
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Daisetz Suzuki, the venerated Zen sage and scholar, sees every difference in the world between the two experiences. "Basho does not pluck the flower," he writes in Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. "He just looks at it. He is absorbed in thought. He feels something in his mind, but he does not express it...." Tennyson, by contrast, "is active and analytical. He first plucks the flower from the place where it grows. He separates it from the ground where it belongs....he does not leave the flower alone. He must tear it away from the crannied wall, 'root and all,' which means the plant must die. He does not, apparently, care for its destiny; his curiosity must be satisifed."

Note that Basho, content merely to "look," reacts as though he has just learned the deep mystery of the flower, while Tennyson, grabbing, dissecting and scrutinizing it, is frustrated in his effort to understand -- frustrated all the more so, because he suspects the riddle of the universe might be disclosed to him at once if he could just make sense of the flower.

For Dr. Suzuki, the contrast in poetic feeling clearly points to irreconcilable mentalities: the western mind, he says, is "analytical, discriminative, differential, inductive, individualistic, intellectual, objective, scientific, generalizing, conceptual, schematic, impersonal, legalistic, organizing, power-wielding, self-assertive, disposed to impose its will upon others." He characterizes the eastern mindset as "synthetic, totalizing, integrative, nondiscriminative, deductive, nonsystematic, dogmatic, intuitive (rather, affective), nondiscursive, subjective, spiritually individualistic and socially group-minded."

... "The Zen way preserves life as life," he says; "no surgical knife touches it. The Zen poet sings:

All is left to her natural beauty,
Her skin is intact,
Her bones are as they are:
There is no need for the paints, powders of any tint.
She is as she is, no more, no less.
How marvelous!"

(© Tim Ruggiero, May 2, 2002)

Alfred Lord Tennyson lived from 1809 to 1892.


Nature Poetry and the Human World
Poems About Life: Main Homepage

You are welcome to send me an email at
letters at kensanes.com
Please see this page for image information.
Copyright © 2010-2011 Ken Sanes