A Few Plum Blossoms in a Temple Garden

While both the Washington Tidal Basin and Tokyo will limit opportunities for hanami (花見, or ‘flower-viewing’) this year, cherry and plum blossoms still entice. At the Linh Son Buddhist Temple in nearby Santa Fe, Texas, the same plum trees that recently endured our unexpected freeze are coming into bloom. Whether they achieve the glory of past years remains to be seen, but in his Essays in Idleness, Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350) offers this salutary perspective:

Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of spring—these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.

Somewhat earlier, the Northern Song dynasty poet Lin Bu (967-1028) composed “Shan Yuan Xiao Mei,”  or “Little Plum Blossoms in a Mountain Garden.” After withdrawing from government service to live in solitude by the West Lake in Hangzhou, the poet embraced a plum tree as his spouse and a crane as his child. While I enjoy both plum blossoms and cranes, I’m not likely to follow his lead in that respect, but the words of his poem do suit the early buds and flowers I found at Lin Sohn.

Among withered flowers plum trees brightly bloom
Dominating garden with beauty unsurpassed

In clear and shallow water sparse branches loom
Floating in moonlit air with delicate fragrance
Eager are the winter birds who come to look
Spring butterflies they must equally enchant

To enjoy such beauty writing these few lines I have luck
Want of wine and song these blooms supplant


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