An understanding of wabi and sabi are essential to appreciating the Japanese aesthetics that underlie haiku and tanka. I once read a definition that boiled these concepts down to a mere 5 words each:
- Wabi: the beauty of imperfection
- Sabi: the beauty of impermanence
These definitions are a useful shorthand because they cut through the metaphysical “clutter”.
Not all complexity is clutter, though. For a more nuanced description of these terms, I offer the following passage from a charming little book called Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life, by Diane Durston:
Wabi has been defined variously in English as: tranquil simplicity; austere elegance; unpolished, imperfect, or irregular beauty; rusticity; things in their simplest, most austere, and natural state; a serene, transcendental state of mind.
Likewise, sabi has been interpreted as the beauty that treasures the passage of time, and with it the lonely sense of impermanence it evokes. It has also been defined as the patina that age bestows, or as that which is true to the natural cycle of birth and death. (Preface, page xi.)
Writers more experienced than me can be quite decisive about what has wabi-sabi and what doesn’t. Me? Even with these excellent definitions, I’m not 100% sure, so I tend to look for wabi-sabi in everything. I may not find it, but I start from the position that it may be there, if only I study an object with enough thought and insight.
I scratch my head
and eat some wasabi
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