The Tao of the Wisteria

Like Waka itself,
you grow five syllables
then seven, then five,
then seven,
then again ……
twining liana after liana
around the Doric column
covered in stucco;
Is this commitment?
an elegant
Ushin Renga riposte
is your twirling delicate tendril
seeking the steadfast
pillar of support,
that does not deny you
an embrace.

They call you
a wanton vine
every nook and cranny,
firmly grasping;
Yet despite
your wistful Wisterin,
that can be poison brew or elixir,
the goldfinches make you their home
and nobles invite you into their gardens,
where you outlast their kith and kin
and even their Cherry blossoms.

So a timekeeper you are,
punctuating the days with seasons;
Fragrant racemes in spring,
leafy interludes in summer,
then barren winter waka vines,
which when laid end to end
yield miles of poetry.

Slowly, steadily,
sinuously, sensuously,
your dancing tendrils,

woody stems,
all the while bearing witness
to an expanding consciousness
of an elegant, immortal love








The very first time I saw Wisteria (1), a woody twining leguminous vine (of the family Fabaceae), was at the chateau, Azay le Rideau in the Loire Valley. It was so beautiful, with the vines trailing against the stucco walls of an outbuilding. I have seen it many times since and last week, once again at one of my favourite gardens, Van Vleck mansion in Montclair; a Chinese Wisteria that is quite impressive in it muscular base and stem.

In Japan, Wisteria was a plant associated with the aristocracy; It now makes a lovely addition to any garden provided the woody deciduous vines are trained well with sturdy support. According to Peter Valder (author of Wisterias: A Comprehensive Guide, 1995), Japanese wisteria is the more decorative plant (2):

“With its many-flowered racemes, it remains in bloom longer, its growth habit is more graceful, the disposition of its blossoms and foliage more elegant, and its autumn colour more effective.”

I wished this botanical poem to be a tribute to this beautiful plant. Wisteria has long been a motif in art, literature and decor in Japan (a favourite with feng Shui practitioners), also especially in Waka poetry which includes Haiku, Ushin Renga and other forms; it has even been a mainstay in theatre, with the famous Fuji Musume (Wisteria Maiden) a classical dance out of the Kabuki theatre in Japan, first performed in 1826, originally as one in a series of five dances (6).

Renga (3) is a genre of Japanese linked-verse poetry in which two or more poets supplied alternating sections of a poem. This form of collaborative poetry (4) requires that the poets complete each other’s stanzas intelligibly. Ushin Renga is serious Renga, elegant and refined like Wisteria I should think.

Waka (5) is Japanese court poetry of the 6th – 14th century, including such forms as renga and haiku. The term waka also is used as a synonym for tanka or short poem, which is the basic form of Japanese poetry.

I think we have something to learn about growth, endurance, elegance and refinement from the way of the Wisteria. I hope you enjoy this botanical poem.









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