The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Awakening” is an unrhymed poem in numbered sections that run I through VII. The title suggests an epiphany, referred to in Zen as satori. The dedication reads, Homage to Hakuin, Zen Master, 1685-1768.

In section I Shoichi, a sixteenth century Japanese painter and calligrapher, has drawn a black circle. Above the circle he has composed a poem, a haiku. Having been penned in the traditional Japanese fashion, with the lines and individual symbols running up and down the page, the poem and circle take on the appearance of budding flowers growing from a bowl. Shoichi tells the reader that the bowl has, “Since the moment of my/ pointing,” held “nothing but the dawn.”

In section II Lucien Stryk presents a winter scene, frost on a window that looks like “laced ice flowers” and a meadow covered with ice and frost that looks as if it drifted off the side of a glacier. The scene reminds the poet of a description by Hakuin in which Hakuin was alone, “Freezing in an icefield,” so cold he “could not move.” The poet realizes that, even though his legs have cramped and he cannot see beyond the frost, his mind is still “pointing/ like a torch.” He does not move. In section III it is spring. The poet examines a stone as he holds it in the palm of his hand and turns it “full circle/ slowly, in the late sun.” He feels a sting in his hand, like the pressure of a “troubled head.” The stone falls from his hand,...

(The entire section is 466 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The first device this poem uses is a dedication. Presenting the poem as homage to a great (perhaps the greatest) Zen master, Stryk prepares the reader for what most Western writers try to lay before their readers whenever they write about Zen—paradox.

Stryk uses a set of framing elements that give the poem a sense of unity and a feeling of formality. Whenever a poem is presented to the reader in numbered units it is natural for the reader to expect that each unit will have both an independent sense of its own and a modular function within the larger framework of the poem. In classic Zen fashion, the author opens the poem at dawn and closes with dusk. Along with reinforcing the unity of the poem and all its elements, this adds a sense of completeness. Typical of Zen thinking, the five sections between I (dawn) and VII (dusk) do not have to carry a sense of having equal importance or of occurring at specific or evenly spaced points within the progression. It is sufficient that they all occur between dawn and dusk.

By dividing most of the poem (all but the first section) into tercets, the poet creates a visual resonance with a large body of Japanese poetry. This is especially true of haiku—and of the work of Hakuin in particular because of his fame not only as a composer of haiku but also as an artist who enhanced his paintings with haiku. Beginning the poem with a reference to another classic Japanese artist who enhanced his paintings with...

(The entire section is 408 words.)