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Verses of Sen-No-Rikyu

Through the teaching of Sen Rikyu it was that Teaism, from being a diversion of the wealthy and of retired people, came to be a point of view and a way of life in Japan. Sen-No-Rikyu was a native of Imaichi in the province of Izumi. At the age of seventeen he was attracted to Teaism and attached himself to Kitamuki Dõchin to study it. After some time he became recognized as the greatest authority of the day. He became a great favorite of the Taiko and accompanied him everywhere.

From this time onward Tea became more and more the fashion, and all ranks of society from Court Nobles and Daimyos to Samurai and Commoners were numbered among his pupils, and deferred to his judgment in everything that pertained to the connoisseur-ship of paintings and writings and the proper choice of utensils.

The principles of Tea as taught by Rikyu are comprised in the four expressions Harmony, Reverence, Purity, Calm. Luxury and Ostentation were to be strenuously avoided.

Once a certain person came to Rikyu and asked him what were the mysteries of Tea. “You place the charcoal so that the water boils properly, and you make the tea to bring out the proper taste. You arrange the flowers as they appear when they are growing. In summer you suggest coolness and in winter coziness. There is no other secret,” replied the Master.

“Tea is not but this.
First you make the water boil,
Then infuse the tea.
Then you drink it properly.
That is all you need to know.”

“All that I know already,” replied the other with an air of disgust.

“Well, if there is any one who knows it already, I shall be very pleased to become his pupil,” returned Rikyu.

The following are some of the verses of Sen-No-Rikyu:


Though I sweep and sweep,
Everywhere my garden path,
Though invisible
On the slim pine needles still
Specks of dirt may yet be found.
When below the eaves
The moon’s flood of silver light
Chequers all the room,
There’s no need to be abashed
If our heart is pure and clear.
When you hear the splash
Of the water drops that fall
Into the stone bowl
You will feel that all the dust
Of your mind is washed away.
In my little hut,
Whether people come or not
It is all the same.
In my heart there is no stir
Of attraction or disgust.
What have I to give?
To my guests for their repast
If I don’t rely
On the monkeys of the vale
For the fruits they bring to me.
There is no fixed rule
As to when the window should
Closed or open be.
It depends on how the moon
Or the snow their shadows cast.
Flowers of hill or dale.
Put them in a simple vase
Full or brimming o’er.
But when you’re arranging them
You must slip your heart in too.
Every morn and eve
When I sweep the Dewy Path
All is calm and still.
Though it seems a guest is there
No one comes to lift the latch.
Many though there be,
Who with words or even hands
Know the Way of Tea.
Few there are or none at all,
Who can serve it from the heart.
If I look upon,
The still mirror of my heart
What there do I see?
Is it the same mind it was
Yesterday, or it is changed?
Though invisible
There’s a thing that should be swept
With our busy broom.
‘Tis the dirt that ever clings
To the impure human heart.
Though you wipe your hands
And brush off the dust and dirt
From the tea vessels.
What’s the use of all this fuss
If the heart is still impure?
Since the Dewy Path
Is a way that lies outside
This most impure world.
Shall we not on entering it
Cleanse our hearts from earthly mire?
When we leave behind
The Three Worlds’ Abodes of Fire,
Storm and Passion tossed,
Entering the Dewy Path
Through the pines a pure breeze blows.
Just a little space
Cut off by surrounding screens
From the larger hall.
But within we are apart
From the common Fleeting World.
In the Dewy Path
And the Tea-room’s calm retreat
Host and guests have met.
Not an inharmonious note
Should disturb their quiet zest.
On a Chinese stand
Vessels all of various shapes
Made of gourds are seen
‘Tis a feast that we receive
Both from China and Japan.
Just a simple shelf
Hanging from the corner wall
By a plain bamboo.
All we need in such a world
Are these artless simple things.
Take a “Go’ bamboo
Split it up and from the joints
You can fabricate
All the things that you will need
For the use of Cha-no-yu.
When you take a sip
From the bowl of powder Tea
There within it lies
Clear reflected in its depths
Blue of sky and grey of sea.
What a lot of things
Just as though by slight of hand
Can be done with you.
Everything you can include
In your maw O double shelf.
I am never tired
Of this simple straw-thatched hut.
Wrought of plain round wood
Does its middle pillar stand
Just exactly to my mind.