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Monday, August 25, 2014

Leaves of Impermanence, Colors of Time: Seasonal Imagery in Selected Nara Poetry

Leaves of Impermanence, Colors of Time: Seasonal Imagery in Selected Nara Poetry

Jen Veldhuyzen
Fall Semester, 2008

Jen Veldhuyzen
Prof. Gustav Heldt
JPTR 335
25 September 2008
Leaves of Impermanence,
Colors of Time: Seasonal Imagery in Selected Nara Poetry
As the leaves outside the dorm room finally begin to fall, hailing the end of this summer inferno without air conditioning, first year students everywhere glory in the coming of autumn. Much like these first year students, the Japanese poets of the Nara period give a special significance to the seasons and their transitions. In poetry, yearly times of change illustrate the stages of human life in many facets, altering the literary view of knowledge, growth, and beauty. In the poetry of Kakinomo no Hitomaro and his predecessor, seasons explain the phases of human life, investigate the transience of existence, and extend that discussion of transience to the political realm, finally providing a means to compare the individual’s relationship to society and time.
The Man’yôshü poets used seasons to expound on a reasonably wide range of topics but the most blatantly obvious imagery pertains to a discourse on the phases of human life. Every life begins in the youth of spring, continues strongly through the peak years of summer, and begins to fade away as the autumn brings winter in “an aesthetic of impermanence.” (65) In one of the earliest poems in the Man’yôshü the poet Lady Nukata answers the question as to which of the seasons, spring or fall, she prefers. Nukata admits that even she, a great noblelady, must “leave the green [leaves] with longing, and that is [her] only regret.” (66, lines 8-9) In other words, we all pass into phases, such as death, where we must leave behind former treasures, former ‘green leaves.’ The question really addresses Nukata’s degree of willingness to release her hold on the impermanent.
For an answer to the comparison between spring and autumn, Nukata first treats the greatness and the shortcomings of spring: the seasons of youth or strength in our lives. When we enter the spring seasons of life we enjoy many blessings, many ‘green leaves,’ but “the grass is so deep that nothing can be seen.” (66, line 4) If spring is youth or strength, Lady Nukata’s ‘deep grass’ can refer to the greatness of the opportunities and the freshness of the distractions before us that keep us from understanding and plucking substance out of our lives. The hindrance of the ‘deep grass’ finally moves Lady Nukata to choose the autumn hills in the last line of the poem. She writes that, in contrast to spring, the autumn season brings wisdom, the ability to “see the tree leaves/And pick the yellow ones with wonder.” (66, lines 9-10) As she inevitably leaves one phase of her physical lifespan to enter the door of another, she recognizes a need to understand and gather from each phase she enters.
While for Lady Nukata spring and autumn seasons point to evanescent phases, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro uses the seasons in his Yoshino praise poems to express power and control. The Empress Jitô has symbolically identified herself with her predecessors by visiting the Yoshino palace, and as she looks out from it onto the land, Hitomaro writes her a glory poem. Overall, it speaks using contrasting pairs to establish her legitimate reign over all areas of life, from the mountains to the rivers. The seasonal imagery arises as “the mountain gods present their offerings/bringing her blossoms in the spring/and yellow leaves when autumn comes…”(73, lines 7-9) This section serves a two-fold purpose. On one level, these can be read as praises of the Empress’s person. A woman gifted with ‘blossoms in the spring’ is physically blessed with the power and beauty of youth. Similarly, a woman who has picked the yellow leaves of autumn has gathered other features such as grace and wisdom. A person possessing both characteristics of spring and autumn makes a good ruler; she has everything needed to qualify her. Another purpose of these symbols is the element of homage. The mountain gods relinquish the spring and the autumn to Jitô. She controls both ends of the spectrum, from spring to fall, her power encompassing not only the extremes of time but also both sides of nature’s character. In this way, the seasons give insight into her reign.
The seasons come into play in a more intriguing way in Hitomaro’s poetry when it becomes difficult to reconcile the fragility of humanity with the god-like power assigned to human political leaders and governments. In his poems on Prince Karu’s hunting forays Hitomaro almost manages to move beyond the political praise. When Hitomaro compares “our lord who passed away” to “the autumn leaves” (75, line 3) he uses an incredibly commonplace comparison without elaboration or discussion on the emperor’s divine leaving, essentially saying that just like everyone else and the leaves, the emperor died. The near bluntness of this statement, placing the bygone emperor on a transient plane, not only illuminates the passing nature of political governments themselves but also brings the emperor down to the rest of humanity.
It can be argued that this reading of the text forces into Hitomaro’s poetry an egalitarian worldview that should not be assumed given the historical context. Point taken--however, in the next tanka Hitomaro continues, “the blaze can be seen rising…the moon has set,” (75, second poem) indicating that though the emperor has died there is a new power. Hitomaro supposedly writes the poem legitimizing the authority of the new prince, Karu, (74) and the sun rising represents this boy’s ascent to the throne. However, the sun will set again. The summer reign of the “peer of the sun” (line 6 of the first short poem, 75) can end in autumn leaves. There is always a higher power, says Hitomaro. He ends his poem series with a short tanka emphasizing the eternality of the dynasty by linking Karu to his predecessor using mixed tenses. “The time IS COMING,” Hitomaro writes, “when the prince who WAS the pier of the sun…/set out to hunt.” (emphasis mine, last tanka) This time confusion allows the life of the past emperor to describe what Karu will do in the future (75). Despite the projected confidence in the ruling political power, however, there is always the knowledge that the previous sun did set. There will always be a cycle. The government, centralized around one person, may establish a near-permanence in its god-like dynasty, but times will always continue to change as people pass on. The double-nature of the short poems on the hunting trip works because of the slightest seasonal symbolism. Remove the images of the autumn leaves and the sun, and you have a praise poem completely lacking any other interior meaning.
Hitomaro continued to milk the seasons of political uses in his Poems On Passing the Ruined Capital of Ömi, this time extending the idea of human transience from emperors to apply to societies. This time the complication arises in acknowledging a capital that has fallen out of favor. The Ömi capital had once housed the emperor Tenchi, held in high esteem by the ruling Yamato court, but on the other hand it had housed the enemies of the current regime. (79) The reconciliation or appeasement of the Ömi court spirits occurs when Hitomaro recognizes the beauty and power of the court throughout the beginning of the poem and then uses seasonal imagery to show that the political transitions were natural and inevitable.
Hitomaro acknowledges then that the “divine sovereign,” Tenchi, (line 13) chose to rule at Ömi, but then moves on from his description of the rocky, “barbarous” landscape (lines 11-12) to speak of an appropriate replacement. Spring always ushers in the new, and in lines 16-17 we read, “Here were his glorious halls/Now all is overgrown by the spring grass/And clouded by the haze of the spring sun.”(80) The new ‘sun,’ and the new emperor, cloud over the glory of the old regime. The spring has come, conquering the cold environment, and the new courtiers and new actions of the court have overgrown and overtaken the old. The spring transition emphasizes not merely the transience of the old regime, but also the greatness of the new. At the same time, however, Hitomaro continues to say in the final line that “we are filled with sadness,” illuminating his nostalgia of the passing phases that society must inevitably leave behind. Only the use of the seasons can express the necessity of forward motion while touching so tenderly and naturally on that which came before. Entire capitals, like emperors and humans, fade into the past to give way to a greater future.
Court society, however transient, held a bond over Hitomaro that he recognized. His poetry did not necessarily come voluntarily; the government commissioned him to write praise poems and undoubtedly kept him separated from his family. The seasons in his Poems on Parting With His Wife At Iwami illustrate the special human conflict with time and society’s consuming demands by fleshing out the speaker’s internal struggle with his desire for his beloved and his timed duty to court.
The speaker speaks of his time with the girl in summer terms. She felt to him like a warm sea, and Hitomaro puts forth many beach and seaweed metaphors in the first lines to illustrate the pleasure the lovers experience together. (81-82) The speaker’s time with his beloved is cut short, however, by his requirements to the court and ultimately to society. He thinks of her “wilting with sorrow/like the summer grass” (82, line 13). The heat of their love and the passion they feel in separating themselves leaves the girl wilted. As time moves the seasons on, so time has cut short their moments together in the name of the court. The girl must move on from the summer they both feel inside as the speaker leaves her “like the dew and the frost.” (line 7) The separation quickly creates a winter. There is limited contact from afar in Hitomaro’s day, and the two feel keenly the cold cruelty that time has inflicted on them. The memories together become like dew and frost, like cold transparencies, as the summer grass wilts.
The speaker is separated from his girl by autumn, the parting that brings the pair from summer together to winter apart. “Through the yellow leaves as they scatter/I cannot see my girl waving her sleeves” (83, 12 line on page) Yellow leaves are autumn’s messangers, the servants and soldiers of time that take us away into the future and obscure our connections with the past and present. They are the driftings and partings in life that interrupt as the winds of time pass. They are the commitments that take the speaker away and fly between the lovers. The speaker must move forward, away from the summers he spent with his girl, on to the winter of court life, through the parting of autumn.
However, even as the yellow leaves force the speaker from summer to winter, they themselves are also passing away on the wind. “Yellow leaves, falling on the autumn hill/ Stop scattering for just a while/So I may see the village of my girl,” requests Hitomaro. (84) The scattering need not continue forever. The wind may die down. The changing of the seasons continues unchangeably, and by using the seasons to describe his departure Hitomaro offers hope that the speaker may return. He poignantly requests in this last stanza that he be allowed to rejoin or at least see his beloved, in the hope that the court, like weather, is not permanent. Interestingly enough, Hitomaro uses similar yellow-leaf language to address the death of the woman in a later poem (84). Using the seasons always indicates that if a current situation is unsatisfactory, it may alter itself over time. Perhaps even death possesses a seasonal quality, hints Hitomaro’s usage.

 Seasons illustrate human transience. Hitomaro took this idea and extended it in his poetry, analyzing this transience in respect to the emperors he praised to remind his readers of a humanity that came hand in hand with their ‘godhood.’ He used the seasons to praise his clients, but also showed that their position as humans came with a fading quality. This fading quality does not limit itself to the human individual, he pointed out, but to entire societies. The individual has hope, and indeed, value because the society above him is transient. When the master limps, the servant has more equal footing. While society may work as an agent of time to move us forward, we all have the hope that in the even further future we may stand on our own terms again. Just as autumn follows summer, spring follows winter, and our lives are most valuable when we can take the most insight and internal beauty out of the time we have been given. Hope, then, is the knowledge that we may pick the autumn leaves that keep us from our dreams and discover that beyond them there may be a greener field.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How The Ethan Couch Case is About The Advantages of Wealth, Not Race

The Ethan Couch case is about the advantages of wealth, not race, and if we want to overcome the prejudices against the impoverished black community as a whole, we need to understand that.

If you just think about it with me you'll see why. Take this scenario: a well-dressed, wealthy good-looking young black man (who probably gets straight As and comes from a "good" family) approaches you late at night on the street, dressed in a button-down shirt and tie or at the very least a polo and khakis, and he asks you the time in "perfect" polite English. Now, a dirty-looking white guy with his pants hanging down around his knees, a du-rag wrapped around his head, long-hair and a cigarette in his hands slouches towards you asking you the same question in slurred, cursing speech. Who makes you uncomfortable?

Most people, regardless of race, answer the white guy, if they really think about it. Most importantly, MOST PREJUDICED WHITE PEOPLE today would answer the white guy JUST because of the way he's dressed. If you don't believe me, ask your slightly-racist white friends, if you have any, and I bet you $50 the majority of them will answer the pants-down guy.

There's nothing wrong with wearing a du-rag, wearing your pants kind of down, or having long hair as a male; smoking's legal if he's over 18, and lots of nice people curse (like me, dammit). Middle and upper-class Americans just have cultural stigmas against those things. Now, my pants-down-white guy is wearing a stereotype that's unfortunately been applied to black people because inequalities in American history put a disproportionate number of black people in lower socio-economic tiers. But today's prejudices against black youth really are related to Povertenza, not "black-enza."

Now put the well-dressed black youth and the pants-down white guy in court, and you see what I'm getting at. I'm not saying that, all things equal, a well-dressed educated black man and a well-dressed educated white man will have the same outcomes, because honestly, those cases don't comprise the majority of the "unjust sentencing" stories you hear about--so we don't know. Look back at the news over this year: in almost every major case of unjust sentencing against a black person where the black person LOST, the black person came from a lower socio-economic tier. Every time the black person comes from a higher socio-economic tier (like when the stupid white policeman tried to arrest a black Harvard professor entering his own house), there's a better outcome (the stupid white policeman got in trouble). All things equal, class is a much more damning factor because we still judge by appearances. We've all heard in school that racism's bad, and that's made a difference in how the country thinks. But no one goes around teaching the kids about classism, which is arguably a deeper wound against the black community. Instead, we've got wealthy and middle-class folks white AND black telling their kids that poor black people just didn't work hard enough, rather than trying to give a kid a hand.

Ethan Couch got off because of affluenza. No one on the defense said he should get off because he's white. I think that's very telling about where our court system's come from, and how far our society still has to go before it finds true equality.

Oh, and if you asked your slightly-racist white friends about this scenario, you owe me $50. My paypal is petrepan at gmail. (Help me overcome my new-found povertenza)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Heart Health Benefits of Red Wine--and Local Wine-Pairing Program

Tomorrow, on Saturday, July 27th, Charlottesvillians and food enthusiasts of Albemarle county will gather at Ducard Vineyards for a continuation of the Food and Wine Pairing Program.
"These will be small group, seated tastings in the new barrel room where we'll have in-depth tastings of our current releases," said a Ducard representative in an e-mail to Examiner.

The menu, according to Ducard's website, will showcase various summer-vacation-style items including crabcakes, cheese, bruschetta, sausage, and chocolates.

Visitors will also try vintage wines straight from the barrel in the 60 degree Fahrenheit cellar, said the Ducard representative--a welcome escape from the sweltering summer vacation heat.

Alcohol produces tissue-damaging ketones that promote oxidation and free radical production, primarily in the liver; Charlottesville's red wine, however, may promote heart and vein health, according to a June 27 study in Autonomic Neuroscience this year.

Scientists have long suspected that antioxidants called polyphenols in red wine and grape juice may prevent or treat hypertension, or high blood pressure, but they hadn't fully studied the effects on cardiac autonomic function, according to the June 27 study. This means they didn't know how red wine affected the heart's control of its beat.

So how does red wine affect your heartbeat? Read more here!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nine tulip flavors for salads & appetizers from Charlottesville's organic tulips

Tulips of different flavors offer different tastes, which gives aspiring appetizer-artists and salad-creators a number of options. Before buying tulips, it may help to know which flavors offer which colors, so here Charlottesville's Nutrition Examiner presents a list of nine flower-flavors for Charlottesville's explorative organic eaters.
Some thoughts before consuming petals: EcoTulips Vice President Keriann S. Koeman recommends thorough washing to remove pollen, which will give a strong peppery taste that burns the back of the throat. She implores consumers to avoid non-organic tulips for consumption: the powerful pesticides used on normally non-food flowers may be harmful to human health.

Nutritively, there's little information on the value of these petals, but certain colors in vegetation often indicate the presence of certain nutrients, says Koeman. The red and orange, for example, usually indicates the presence of beta-carotene, a substance that helps vitamin A improve skin, eye, and immune system health. While there aren't many documented tulip consumption allergies, data mined from dictionaries and encyclopedias indicates that some people do have dermatitis reactions in response to petal consumption. Animals who have eaten the bulb and the petals have died because of the anti-nutritives in the bulb, so it's important to look at preparation warnings before bulb consumption; offers several tulip cooking ideas.

Without further ado, click to discover nine tulip petal flavors, or visit an organic tulip festival to try other varieties in person.

5 ways for Charlottesvillians to eat organic tulips

Keriann S. Koeman started Charlottesville's local EcoTulips with her Dutch husband in 2009 with an emphasis on pesticide-free, farmer-friendly tulip growth. Like Charlottesville itself, the company's success grew out of international influence, and influence from local farming backgrounds.

Now, EcoTulips sells tulips at $1 per stem during picking season, and online for a bit more for the rest of the year. The company recently branched out to sell USDA-certified Dahlias, and they run a partnership program for schools, churches, and nonprofits interested in using tulips for fundraising.

While most customers arrive to the field to see and maybe smell the flowers, Koeman offered several tips for taste. Nearly--nearly is the key word here--all the parts of a tulip are edible and like lettuce or other greens, relatively healthy.

Read on for five edible tulip tips.

Ch-ch-ch-chia Charlottesville: Where to buy chia's top 3 health benefits via

  Chia seeds, once popular as the 1980's green-haired clay pet, have made a comeback as a health-food throughout the nation--and Charlottesville--with rumors of weight loss, high-protein energy, and even diabetic help.

Chia seeds first became popular with the Mayans, who drank them, ground them into flour, and mixed them as oils as early as 3500 BC; the later Aztecs believed one tablespoon could sustain a warrior for 24 hours, and they treated chia as a sign of strength. When the Aztecs conquered other peoples, they demonstrated that strength by demanding chia seeds as tribute, symbolically as well as literally "sapping the strength" from their enemies.

Today's chia-consumers may see chia differently--more as a food for "back-to-nature" health-hippies than violent warrior's fare--but the nutritional requirements remain the same. To help health-conscious readers track down the elusive black-and-white marbled seeds, Charlottesville's Nutrition Examiner contacted grocery stores across Charlottesville to discover who's stocking. When possible, Examiner dug up prices to help Charlottesville's health-nuts compare cost. Charlottesville-area chia shopping grounds include:
  • Kroger on Barrack's Road (1159 Emmet St N) stocks three or four varieties ranging around $9.99 for a small bag.
  • Kroger at 1980 Rio Hill Center stocks a 16 oz box for $9.49 and a 1 lb bag $21.99.
  • Whole Foods on 1797 Hydraulic Rd stocks several different brands between $6.99 and $17.99. Organic varieties begin with a Whole Foods Brand 15 oz bag at $18.99, Nutiva brand $16.99 for 12 oz bag, and Navitas $17.99 for 16 oz bag. Conventional brands stocked include Spectrum, at $12.99 for a 12 oz bag, and The Chia Company on sale through end of April 2013 with $6.99 for a 5 oz bag, 17 oz bags for $16.99, 12 oz bags for $15.99, and 35 oz tubs for $26.99.
Are the health benefits worth the costs? Our Charlottesville Nutrition Examiner checked current scientific research to find out. Click forward for the top 3 scientifically-proven health benefits of chia.

Three protein-rich international drinks for Charlottesville's culinary explorers via

Charlottesville's surrounded by local farms celebrating sustainable and 'Down-to-Earth' food choices and the city's filled with international influences drawn by the University of Virginia. These two factors create a mixing-bowl of health lovers and brave culinary adventurers, making Charlottesville a food haven for residents interested in wild homemade shakes.

Sometimes blending these two interests so inherent to Charlottesville's culture presents a challenge from a health perspective, especially as someone searching for high-protein shakes. Everyone enjoys wild eats, but making them healthy? These three recipes bring Latin America, East Asia, and Europe into the kitchen without sacrificing too much health-wise: The first two drinks pack gobs of healthy protein almost unrivaled in the plant kingdom.

The last drink, a new twist on a Danish dish, trades some health for ingenuity, but the drink remains high-protein as promised. Each recipe includes local shopping tips to make it easier for Charlottesville's oral explorers to enjoy world-wide muscle-building tastes.

Read the rest of my article here: