I saw a bonsai tree earlier. Exquisitely arranged, perfect in its appearance. I admired it in awe, and then a thought crossed my mind and I couldn’t get rid of it: what exactly was it that I admired in a mutilated tree? The art of “educating” a plant to grow according to our own will? The way the small tree manages to “forget” about the cutting and the clumping and the trimming and the wiring and the all-together contortionism to which it is subjected, and simply grows?
What is the real beauty of a bonsai? Does it reside in the smallness? But smallness is relative – related to our own size. Do we create bonsais in order for them to make us feel bigger? An identical tree, though bigger than us, would be smaller than a mountain. But then again, an identical though bigger tree wouldn’t appear just as beautiful in different circumstances. We’d look at it with pity and say “poor tree, so twisted”, without realizing that the twisted one is our own view.
So, is it actually about the circumstances in which we look at it? Do we actually love the hidden wisdom of nature, letting us believe that we subdued it and forced it into shape, when in fact nature simply followed its course, surviving the circumstances? Is that what impresses? Or maybe the apparent resignation and submission of the tree under our touch?
Does the bonsai feel the awe in the eyes of his beholders? Does that comfort it in any way? Does our admiration in front of it MATTER? Or maybe what we actually do is subconsciously enjoy the tacit guilt spicing our admiration – a milder form of sadism under the pretext of art and beauty, excusing the cruelty. At this point at least half of you, dear readers, will protest and talk to me about the secular tradition of bonsai aesthetics and say that it’s not a proof of cruelty. Is it now? *smiling* Foot binding in China used to also be done under the pretext of beauty. How interestingly simple is actually the human essence…
But let me not divagate.
I liked the sight of that little bonsai. I sipped its beauty with all my strength and loved it and assumed the guilt for loving it – with awareness, with humility and shame. That bonsai bears the mark of human artistry – and maybe that is the “lesson” after all.
– Liliana Negoi
© 2013, essay, portrait below, and book cover art, Liliana Negoi, All rights reserved
Illustration ~ Juniper bonsai by Jose Luis Blasco Paz – the original one can be seen on http://www.bonsaiempire.com/blog/top10-bonsai.
LILIANA NEGOI (Endless Journey and in Romanian curcubee în alb şi negru) began to write poetry at eighteen – by accident – as she herself likes to remember, and has been exploring the depths of language ever since. Currently she is the author of three published volumes of poetry in English – which is not her mother tongue but one that she came to love especially because of writing: Sands and Shadows, Footsteps on the San – tanka collection and The Hidden Well. The last one can also be heard in audio version, read by the author herself on her SoundCloud site HERE. Many of her creations, both poetry and prose, have been published in various literary magazines.