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.)