.

Like someone else, in unaccustomed dress,
I choose that silken smoothness graze my skin
__As fragile branches effloresce,
Revealing vernal consciousness within
Of transient white or pink I can caress

With fingers titillating opaline
Just opened buds exploding as they tease
__My sight. They tremble; I take in
Dense layered masses wafting in weak breeze,
Displaying sprays for gazing kith and kin.

It’s vital to imbibe beneath the trees,
Partaking of spring tastes prescribed to heal:
__Sweet leaf-wrapped mochi feeds my ease;
Pink pickled blossoms beautify a meal
That nourishes my subtlest sympathies.

Fresh fallen petals on my toes I feel,
And lift a hand to sense the cherry snow;
__Soft blizzards drifting down appeal
To watchers not yet wanting flakes below,
But longing for continued scenes ideal

To sway above in debonair tableaux.
Friends cordially consume contentedness,
__Enrobed in lanterns’ lunar glow
As blooms, but not impressions, evanesce
While we, who harvested the season, go.

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Poet’s Note: This is a form created for the Japanese cherry blossom or sakura of five-petal blooms with a notch in the center of each petal. The poem has five five-line stanzas of iambic pentameter, with a tetrameter line in each stanza representing the notch. And the poem uses five rhyme sounds five times each, by picking up the beginning rhyme sound at the end.

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Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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34 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a lovely poem on the beauty of cherry-blossom season in Japan. The intricately interwoven rhymes of the five-line stanza are elegantly done. I think Dr. Coats is trying for a synaesthetic effect here, where the various senses seem to be melded together into a single experience. I can locate touch, smell, vision, and taste in the imagery, and I suppose hearing is represented by the verbal reality of the poem itself, as the silent reader hears its words in the mind.

    Note that Coats uses two of the most beautiful verbs in English (effloresce and evanesce) in the first and last stanzas. All the verbs and adjectives with the inchoative infix –sc– from Latin have a lusciously supple sound.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I began this poem with “Sakura Synaesthesia” at the top of the notebook page, but soon found that sight is so much the dominant sense that a hierarchy of senses develops. Touch and taste are more important than hearing or smell (there is only a delicate fresh scent, nothing that could be called a perfume). And for the experience in Japan, there are other essentials, especially seeing the blossoms in daytime and at night, alone and with friends, and in motion through at least some celebrated viewing places to which one must travel.

      You have one of the most celebrated viewing places outside Japan at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which I believe has more trees and a greater variety of types of tree than the better known display in Washington DC.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you so much, Joe. Your comment shows that my writing corresponds to the poem’s subject, and what more could I aim for?

      Reply
  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I love the rhythmic form and rhyme scheme, and just the mood your words were able to evoke so that the reader experienced the scene.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you for affirming the reader’s experience! With my pet poems, I sometimes wonder whether others can comprehend them, much less experience them with a similar mood. That makes a comment like yours very heartening.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I love your descriptive word, “evolving.” I hadn’t first planned the shorter line in each stanza, and when I came to each one of those, I had to pay close attention to the principle of “just enough,” which is so important in Japanese arts. So glad to know that the result is a lovely form!

      Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    Margaret, synesthesia has been a part of my poetry and art for as long as I can remember. You have provided a beautiful and timely experience — buds need to be stroked, manually and visually. Nature is our heritage — nothing to do with forming government departments to regulate our relationship with it.
    Every artist knows this. Thanks so much for sharing your multi-sensual experience.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Sally, I reflect that all five of our senses are operational most of the time–but often some of them are not receiving sensations. When painters or poets decide to employ synaesthesia, first we have to choose experiences that appeal to all the senses. Then we have to use artistic techniques that will awaken all five senses in a reader or viewer–but without providing anything to taste or smell or touch. For the painter, there’s nothing to hear either–and the poet, when it comes to sight, has to rely on description, although the appearance of words on the page is significant. Words seem to be the more useful tool, but I recall your creativity in paintings with viewpoints, angles, sensuous images, and even multiple images of the same object. This isn’t easy, and as you say, too many regulations hinder rather than help. Therefore I much appreciate your opinion that I succeeded!

      Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    I think, Margaret, that this is the most lyrical poem of yours I have read so far. It was a delight to all of my senses. I have planted such cherry trees for clients, and I can recall, from years past, when these same trees, planted in my across-the-street neighbor’s yard, spewed a blizzard of pink petals following the peak of bloom. Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’ is what I think you are writing about here, but according to Donald Wyman the nomenclature for the species is more mixed up than that of any other species in the genus. No matter. It is what it is, and when you see/feel it you can give it any name you like, which changes nothing.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Isn’t it interesting that this most lyrical piece of mine is written in a moderately strict form, invented for a particular kind of flower, with prescribed varying line lengths and an intricate rhyme scheme? Freedom in form, shall we say?

      And then the plant! I let you take care of the botanical names. It’s simply important to remember that sakura (cherry) is not ume (plum). Plum blossom petals are not notched like sakura, but rounded like most flower petals. Ume bloom earlier than sakura, and they have fruit. Umeboshi are the pickled round things that look like a cherry in the middle of many rice bowls. Sakura have no fruit, but can be pickled as flowers. Since pickled cherry blossoms are more expensive than umeboshi, they are luxury foods.

      Reply
  5. BRIAN YAPKO

    This is indeed a gorgeous, sensual poem. I’ve been to Japan in April and the cherry trees are indeed a feast for the eyes. And cherry petals are indeed photographed, eaten and even worn. Beyond the content of your poem, I love the way it is structured to mirror the blossoms which are its subject. Sublime.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      The special form was a momentary inspiration that happened as the poem was being written. Glad you like it, and also glad that you’ve been able to experience the sakura season in Japan.

      Reply
  6. David Watt

    Margaret, I also love the fact that you have been inspired to match the structure of your poem to mirror the subject. Thank you for this sensuous journey through the cherry blossoms.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, David. There is so much to say about blossoms and viewing that I needed a form to keep the words in check. This poem is long compared to a haiku, or even a sonnet, but the sensuous journey has to express transience, and my sakura form helps by mapping it out with fitting limits.

      Reply
  7. Sally Cook

    Once a watch is wound, one dare not go beyond the winding. That extra,lunneeded turn can destroy its function. Excuse me for forgetting we no longer wind watches.
    I perceive that you have gone below the skin of my painterly works, and responded on many levels to their intent.
    Whether I am painting,or writing,
    there is a peculiar process that occurs .whether I am painting or writing, very similar to the winding of that watch,l and when it is complete I know the work is finished.
    I don’t always immediately recognize it; one very large 5 x 6 foot painting sat on the easel for a year before I knew how to make the last turn. Suddenly I coiuld see.
    Having lived with the painting for some months. Turned it upside down and with a few strokes finished it.
    All of the “devices” we are so enamored of today are supremely annoying to me; I believe it is because they quite efficiently interrupt what is (to me) the normal process of synaethesia, which any human
    possessing five senses needs.
    One might ask, as everything else seems to have been corrupted, why should we not expect corruption here?Iit is my opinion that many medical problems are caused by our seeming desire for immediate gratification. So that when I see an ad for non-stick cookware that tells me I can fry without oil I say to myself “but all the qualities of oil are desirable !)
    That is precisely what makes your poem so fine. It breaks the plastic shield which preserves shallow emotion and gets right into the meat of it. Quite a job to take on, but so well worth the doing.
    Bravo !

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you again, Sally. You are right about knowing when a work of art is finished; it may take a while to come to that point. I wondered about the ending here, and the word “harvest” came up, because in gathering sensory impressions, we are harvesting. It didn’t seem quite the right way to end a spring poem, but reading it from varied angles, it fit well.

      Reply
  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, this exquisite poem caresses the senses with its delicate imagery – the “cherry snow” being one of my favorites – and the lilt of the innovative form. For me, this is a masterclass in poetry that I am imbibing like sweet cherry wine. Very well done and thank you!

    ‘Cherry Blossom Viewing’ has also taken me back to my childhood. I skipped to school down an avenue of cherry trees that sprinkled petal confetti all over my hair and inner-princess.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Susan, my master class for this poem was the old Peter Pauper books of haiku from the 1960s. Peter Beilenson, publisher and translator, helped me find an opening phrase from our favourite Basho, who felt like someone else when he put on new clothes for a New Year celebration. Many people dress up to go out and see cherry blossoms. I didn’t need to, as I lived in parts of Kyoto with many trees, just as you had trees on the way to school as a child. Still, it was a master poet’s tip for a poem about a season of renewal!

      Reply
  9. Jonicis Bulalacao

    Thanks for this lovely poem, Margaret. And thanks for getting me into the beauty of poetry.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Joni, you will gladden every poet who sees this comment. We are all trying to create more beautiful poetry that more people will enjoy, and here is evidence that it’s happening!

      Reply
  10. Damian Robin

    When I started to read this poem, Margaret, I thought ‘predictable’ and flounced through the rest of it.

    After paying more attention to the comments than the poem, a habit I succumb to too often when a poem stretches me, I realized I’d given it the ‘predictable’ label because you are the poet. Your poems and comments are of such high quality that it was ‘Another good one, I s’pose, nothing new here,’ like watching a high flight sports team that wins lots of trophies and here it is again, trying effortlessly hard and achieving great things.

    I like the first use of enjambement
    Just opened buds exploding as they tease
    __My sight. 
    The hover before the drop to the next line, much like the petals may tentatively hang on. A bit of a tease.

    And
    Pink pickled blossoms beautify a meal
    That nourishes my subtlest sympathies.
    So much going on in the sounds of syllables, ideas of gastronomy, and delicate emotional sensibilities (‘subtlest sympathies’).

    Years ago in London, I had the happy job of being on the council refuse team that clapped up the the gallons of pink cherry blossom waves damming the roads in posh Chelsea. The quantities of mounting petals was astonishing.

    Thanks also for the wonderful video. A well-constructed piece. I assume it was filmed early in the blossom season as few petals were on the ground.

    Here’s a coda, more mischievous idea based (like a zen koan ‘does the falling cherry blossom make a noise if there’s no-one there to video it?) and less sensuous than your poem above.

    What happens there now you’ve re-turned away,
    Dis-guarding used up beauty to its fate?
    Do luscious squadrons group and spray
    Civilians’ sense with soft, munitioned weight
    Inside more cameras than the wind can sway?

    Here’s looking forward to more of your winning ways in comments and poems and other people’s admiration.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Damian, for your unique and unpredictable compliments! Your coda koan sets me quite a task. First answer comes from my husband, who points out that wind and rain take care of downed flower petals. This does happen, especially in a year like 2015 (date of the video), when flowers were considered sparse, and you can see rain during the season in the video, when the young lady has her parasol up. When persons need to clear away “used up beauty” in Kyoto, I would say it is “persons” and not “squadrons.” Someone takes responsibility for each smallest space, and this often has more to do with pride in a residence or business or corner of a neighborhood, than with being employed by government to keep the place tidy. I would also say dry petals lie on the ground as long as they retain their symbolic, wistful significance of transience, and don’t become mere ugly decay. Then they disappear.

      You are quite right to notice that the sakura get stored in the young lady’s camera in this remarkably well-done 4-minute video, undoubtedly produced to encourage sakura season tourism to Kyoto. The girl doesn’t use a smart phone, but a high-tech miniature professional camera–which I think is a good figure for the memory. All the blossom viewing in the video in fact takes place in her mind, on the elevated bullet train platform of Kyoto Station, while she waits to go home to Osaka in the speediest and most expensive way possible (there must be a dozen cheaper trains or buses going from somewhere in Kyoto Station to Osaka). Osaka itself is a figure of commerce and technology, while Kyoto is history and culture. The video is telling us that we need to step away from hectic modern life and fill our minds with beauty and tradition in a visit to Kyoto. There is a saying (using English idiom!) that a journey of a “million miles” to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto is worth it. Did you notice the public address system was using English? That happens on the bullet train platform, where announcements are bilingual.

      Reply
      • Damian Robin

        Thanks,,M I havent read your comment yet but want to pass on a comment from Japanese friend who I forwarded the poem and page to.

        She said “the photo shows the area where Shen Yun plays regularly in the past 3~4 years…”
        https://www.shenyun.org/
        Shen Yun promotes Chinese rather than Japanese traditions but a lot of Japanese culture, certainly language, came via China (as I think Tom Rimmer, below, would testify to, being a retired Professor of Japanese Literature whose comment I have also only glanced at so far). For now many thanks.

      • Margaret Coats

        Heian Shrine, a huge open space with many buildings devoted to cultural activities, is the ideal Kyoto venue for Shen Yun. The area has more than one big torii gate just like the one pictured here, so your friend would certainly have passed one on the way to a performance.

        And you are right about close cultural relations between Japan and China. Not only does the Japanese language use Chinese characters as the main one of its four writing systems, but an important feature of Japanese literary history is poems written in Chinese by Japanese poets.

      • Margaret Coats

        Damian, I’ve now forgotten twice to thank you for the tribute of composing your single-petal coda in my cherry blossom form. Acknowledged and appreciated!

  11. Tom and Laurence Rimer

    My wife Laurence much enjoyed the poem, of course, but I wanted to make a particular comment. As a retired Professor of Japanese Literature, I have read so many waka (31 syllable poems) and haiku (17 syllable poems) on the beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms), a subject that has appealed to Japanese poets of all periods. But now, with this poem, I can react for the first time to a much longer evocation, and one which allows for so many more intertwining feelings and responses that would be impossible to render in the short Japanese forms. I would be curious to know how a Japanese reader would respond to such a rich experience. And, as the video shows, the cherry trees range from delicate to refulgent, so this wider range of emotional responses is all the more welcome. And “the cherry snow,” based on our own experiences in Kyoto over the years, is a clear description of (elegant) fact!

    Reply
  12. Margaret Coats

    This is a reply to Tom and Laurence Rimer, which may not appear directly below their comment, as I want the full width of available space here. Laurence, I’m very glad you enjoyed the poem! Tom, your question about Japanese readers is fascinating. Perhaps our California location will enable us to find some who can give an answer, and if so, I’ll let you know. I’m not aware that we have Japanese members or visitors here at SCP, but if so, please put in your views!

    But as you, Tom, are a professor of Japanese literature, perhaps you can let us all know here what form a poem of this scope would take in Japanese. My poem isn’t about the beauty of the blossoms, which is a suitable topic for short form haiku or waka. It’s about the viewing experience, which has become a seasonal ritual enjoyed by many Japanese. This includes snacking, drinking, socializing, and visiting special viewing spots. Also, as Joseph S. Salemi noted in the first comment above, the poem about the beauty of the cherry-blossom season. In fact, the five stanzas of the poem go from (1) first appearance of blooms, to (2) filling out of branches, to (3) parties held underneath trees in full bloom, to (4) fall of petals as “snow” or “blizzard,” to (5) end of bloom (with an allusion to night viewing) and departure of viewers. What literary form would a Japanese author use to cover all this? Would it be a collection or sequence of short forms? If we add painting and calligraphy to verse, could this be a handscroll or even a five-panel folding screen?

    Granted that this poem is a very long one in relation to the usual Japanese lyric forms, I think there are a few things in it that might appeal to Japanese with a reading knowledge of English. The special form would seem to be of interest. As well, the poem begins by quoting Basho (see what I said to Susan Jarvis Bryant above), and the second stanza has an allusion to a plum blossom poem by Basho’s contemporary Yamaguchi Sodo. These place the poem within Japanese tradition. I’m not sure whether quotes like this are as much esteemed in Japanese poetry as in Chinese, but you will know. You’ll also know whether synaesthesia, as discussed by Salemi, Cook, and me, is attractive or uncouth to Japanese.

    Many thanks for the interesting question!

    Reply
    • Tom Rimer

      Margaret, you raise some interesting issues here. The main point to be made, however, is that in contemporary Japan, while there are lots of poets who still write haiku and other traditional forms, the majority of professional poets (if I can put this way) who sustain important literary reputations, of whom there are many, write in what is termed the “modern” style, that is, in looser forms imported from France and elsewhere well over a hundred years ago. Early translations of Baudelaire and Shakespeare began the change. Modern poetry, unlike, say, haiku, has no list of preferred subjects, and so contemporary poetry ranges over any number of subjects, just as here in the United States. Incidentally I e-mailed two friends, one Japanese, one American, both highly-acclaimed translators of modern Japanese poetry, and both said they couldn’t come up with any memorable Japanese poems about cherry blossoms written in the modern style. My suspicion is that, if there were, their authors would make use of the same sort of strategy that you did. Which was very effective!

      Reply
  13. Margaret Coats

    Thank you again, Tom. It is interesting to hear–but not surprising–that traditional topics, like traditional form, have taken a back seat in Japan as elsewhere. As well, it is interesting to reflect that anything like my poem above would be considered “modern” in Japan, although I am writing and publishing on a platform where most of us oppose “modernism” and are devoted to the restoration of tradition (especially meter and rhyme) in English poetry.

    Having consulted one anthology of modern Japanese poetry translated into English, I see that it is divided into three sections, Free Verse, Tanka (31-syllable poems, I suppose the same as waka), and Haiku. The “Free Verse” section comes first and comprises about 80% of the book, which confirms your remarks about where a prestigious reputation in Japanese poetry is to be found. There is not a single cherry blossom poem anywhere in the book.

    The principal translator was Edith Shiffert (1916-2017), who would be considered an international author despite many prizes and publications in Japan, where she lived for the last 54 years of her life. Her poetry that I know is in haiku form (both Japanese and English), and she kept up the tradition of “literati” poets, with art given a prominent place in her commercially published books, and calligraphy as well in the one handmade volume of hers that I have. Edith is my example of what an international poet writing in Japanese tradition might do. In a book of poems arranged according to months of the year, she features a cherry blossom poem to accompany the April picture of blossoming trees. There are five more in sequence among the thirty additional April poems. I’ll quote one to respond to Damian Robin’s koan about what becomes of the fallen petals.

    In all the ditches
    drifts of pale cherry petals
    for just these few days.

    Reply
    • Tom Rimer

      Margaret — good to hear from you and I am happy to be reminded of the work of Edith Shiffert. Her anthology was for many years a staple for Japanese poetry-lovers.

      The question of “old vs. new” in Japanese poetry is somewhat complicated. As you probably know, the interest in Western “modern” poetry came about in Japan because younger poets wanted to write longer poems, with room to express more complex emotions and ideas, since tanka and haiku were limited to so few syllables. Long verses were indeed written in traditional Japan, throughout that long literary tradition, but the language used was classical Chinese. There are many masterpieces among the kanshi, as they are called. But in the 1890s and after, when most young Japanese gave up learning classical Chinese to take up French, English, and German, they lost the ability to read, write, and appreciate these classical forms. We in the West had related issues with Latin, it seems to me — as I recall, Milton debated whether to write PARADISE LOST in Latin or English. Had he chosen Latin, his readers would have long vanished.
      In sum, our poets can go back to older forms of poetic diction and create new works of distinction, but in the case of Japan, the only road back leads to a language few can understand. So there is a difference, I think.

      Reply
  14. Margaret Coats

    That certainly is a difference! Like most Westerners, I’ve only studied very brief Japanese lyrics, and didn’t imagine that for a poet, working within Japanese tradition and wishing to write a poem of sonnet scope or longer, it would be necessary to use Chinese (even though it may have been the Chinese language as long adapted by Japanese poets writing kanshi). In the Japanese language, then, there would be left only the option of a sequence of poems, possibly combined with prose, as in Basho’s poetic diary “Narrow Road to the Deep North.” And that seems likely to include narrative, or even to make lyric subsidiary to narrative–unlike most lyric sequences in the Western tradition.

    Reply
    • Tom Rimer

      Margaret — yes that kind of poetic diary, mixing prose and haiku, was certainly in use, even into the modern period, but poets apparently came to prefer the use of the “modern” extended forms, and so the poetic diary virtually vanished by the 1920s or so, to the best of my knowledge.

      And yes indeed, Basho did it best!

      Tom

      Reply

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