Notes on Self-Transcendence East and West: Jorge Guillén and Haiku

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“Notes on Self-Transcendence East and West: Jorge Guillén and Haiku”

by Rupert Allen
in: Dieciocho, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1978, pp. 160-81.

During the second half of this century we have seen an enormous growth in the literature on self-transcendence. The phenomena associated with “centered,” non-ego awareness have been described in a number of fields including ethnology, depth psychology, comparative religion, parapsychology, and the vast literature on meditative techniques.

Particularly important for the theoretical structure of non-ego consciousness is the current trend in parapsychology toward a synthesis of knowledge about the subject. The “spooky” Victorian interests of the old Society for Psychical Research (founded in 1882)—trance mediums, ghosts, and the like—have been left far behind, as has the obsessive collecting of laboratory statistics on ESP (J. B. Rhine's work at Duke University).

Contemporary parapsychologists agree in recognizing two modes of consciousness (just as mystics, contemplatives, and poets have always done): the dual (ego/world) and the transcendental (“I-Thou”); the “profane” and the “sacred.” And of course when we say “Consciousness” we are also saying “reality”: there are two realities. Variations on this theme of consciousness—mysticism, mediumship, ESP, shamanic ecstasy, oneiric phenomena, psychedelic experience, hypnosis—are that at bottom: variations on a theme, as is abundantly evident in the book Altered States of Consciousness,1 an extraordinary collection of articles on “ASC’s.” To the student of literature it becomes clear that poetic inspiration is one such variation, and that its treatment as an ASC can further understanding of the poetry we read. In the present article we will be concerned with some short poems by Jorge Guillén, whom we consider to be the greatest contemporary Spanish exponent of transcendental consciousness.

Arthur Deikman's psychological experiments in meditation yielded results of great relevance here. In his article, “Bimodal Consciousness and the Mystic Experience,”2 he describes the two modes of awareness, the “analytic” and the “non-analytic,” and his experiments in producing the latter. He presented his subjects with an experiment in “concentration,” and adapted his instructions from a yoga text. Subjects were to concentrate on a blue vase:

By concentration I do not mean analyzing the different parts of the vase, … but, rather, trying to see the vase as it exists in itself … Exclude all other thoughts or feelings … keep them out so that you can concentrate all your attention, all your awareness on the vase itself. Let the perception of the vase fill your entire mind.3

Following these instructions subjects were able to fall into the receptive mode of awareness (Deikman's term), which shows on the EEG as a decrease in the usual beta waves and a dropping into the lower frequencies of the potent alpha and theta waves. Deikman sums up his results:

1) there was an increase in the vividness and richness of the vase image (e.g., they described it as “luminous,” “more vivid”); 2) the vase seemed to acquire a life of its own … ; 3) there was a decrease in the sense of being separate from the vase … 4) [there was] a fusing of perceptual modes [i.e., synesthesia].4

Lawrence LeShan's extensive work in transcendental consciousness led him to characterize this mode as follows: (1) perception occurs as “knowledge through uniting with; being one with”; (2) goal-oriented behavior becomes meaningless (because the world is now Complete); (3) time is experienced as the Eternal Now, even though sequences continue to be perceived; (4) space is seen to be an illusion, i.e., a “playing” of the All (cf. the etymology of “illusion”: L. ludo, ludere, lusum); (5) affectively one is centered, calm, at peace (that is, this mode is not essentially an emotion, but rather a clear and steady perception).5 Nils O. Jacobson, the noted Swedish parapsychologist, corroborates LeShan.6

Persons capable of entering into this state of being manifest it according to temperament, powers, and their place in society and in time (their karmic situation). Thus a great clairvoyant such as Eileen Garrett, or a primitive shaman; a faith healer with the extraordinary powers of Arigó, or a Zen roshi; a great poet or a great artist; all are living in the same mode of consciousness, and that is where their abilities manifest themselves. Those for whom this mode calls for fulfillment by way of the Word are either poet-cum-prophet or prophet-cum-poet, depending upon the peaks and valleys of the social order from which they spring.

Particularly relevant to our understanding of the seer as poet (rather than as prophet) is the classical haiku, the poetry of Zen consciousness, for here we have the deliberate esthetic cultivation of transcendental reality, resting on the solid theoretical foundation of Zen Buddhism.7 That we Westerners are generally oblivious to the existence of the “other” world is indicated by the fact that we do not know how to read haiku without special training in altered consciousness. Once this training is undergone the content of the haiku becomes accessible, and the impressive world of Japanese beauty is seen for the miracle that it is. As an example of the (to us) “hermetic” haiku, we may consider the poem by Shiki, that says:

          Lighting the light,—

The shadows of the dolls,

          One for each.(8)

The analytical mode of perception sees no significance in this poem, because the “thusness” of objects is functionless; the object is not good for anything. But this experience of “thusness” is exactly that alluded to by Pedro Salinas in his early poem, “La luna estuvo en la casa,” where the middle-class family retires for the evening; when mother, father, and daughter vacate the parlor the moonlight makes flower-shadows on the wall of the room:

En cuanto todos se fueron,

las flores que estaban puestas

en la mesa

vieron su alma dibujada

con la luna y sombra de luna

en la blanca paz del muro.(9)

Salinas symbolizes the movement from analytic to nonanalytic perception by removing the people from the room. With the absence of ego-intellect the “suchness” of the object—the alma—becomes perfectly obvious.

Probably no Spanish poet has lived more constantly with this “suchness” of things than Jorge Guillén, who uses the word autónomo to this purpose. Of the objects of reality he says, “Ahí están de por sí y ante sí, autónomos, y con una suprema calidad: son reales.”10 Guillén, when he states this, is “centered,” and so indicates by the play on the word sí: things stand de por sí (self-sufficiently) and in front of (oneself). By this skilful use of the word he tells us that the object and the observing mind are identical. The world and consciousness of the world are indissoluble: de por “sí” y ante “sí.”

Centeredness is in contrast to what we may call “lopsided awareness,” which may sin on the short (ego) or on the long (insanity): it is what the Tao Te Ching calls chung, “centering,” indicated by the ideogram of an arrow in the center of its target.11 Chung (No. 1504 in Mathews, Chinese-English Dictionary) is used in various compound expressions to mean “central,” “middle” (China calls herself the “Middle Kingdom,” between the rising sun and barbaric darkness), “neutral,” and “witness.” The detached observer within oneself “witnesses” his own thought processes without yielding to ego-involvement. Sri Nisargadatta puts it this way:

The Mind [ego] is interested in what happens, while awareness [centered consciousness] is interested in the mind itself. The child is after the toy, but the mother watches the child, not the toy.12

The metaphor is clear enough: the normally repressed Self, operating out of the feminine unconscious (“mother”), observes ego-consciousness (“child”) as it engages itself with the karmic world of matter (“toy”).

The Self as witness perceives the world-order as identical with the observing consciousness (“Let the perception of the vase fill your entire mind”). It is seen as complete, mature, or well-made. In “Beato sillón” Guillén says, “El mundo está bien hecho.”13 Similarly psychic Jane Roberts, in describing a numinous experience of centeredness, states that the world she is seeing in the Eternal Now is “like the old world [she sees the same sequences] but … built better …”14 “It seems … better constructed.”15 In haiku this sense that reality is now complete, that the cosmos is “just so,” sometimes appears in the following manner. On New Year's Day (=prelapsarian consciousness) Shusai sees

          The first sunrise;

There is a cloud

          Like a cloud in a picture.(16)

At Saga Basho sees


painted into a picture;

          Bamboos of Saga.(17)

Riding his jaca, he falls into instinctual centeredness:

          I find myself in a picture;

The cob ambles slowly

          Across the summer moor.(18)

Our subject is inexhaustible, and here at most we can treat briefly only three topics: (1) distinctions between the two modes, (2) Unity with the world, and (3) Unity as esthetic beauty. We have chosen to discuss décimas in El pájaro en la mano (Cántico) because they are compact—although not like haiku, since Guillén's best décimas are intricately Gongoristic, to an extent that sometimes foils the efforts of even knowledgeable and sophisticated translators.



Oigo crujir una arena

¿Es aquí? Nadie la pisa.

En el minuto resuena

—¡Cuánta playa nunca lisa!—

Mucho tiempo: va despacio.

¿Por qué fluctúa reacio,

Hostil a su movimiento?

Lenta la hora, ya es todo

Breve … ¡Bah! Por más que el codo

Cavile, no. no hay lamento.(19)

This poem expresses the movement into and out of transcendental awareness. At the beach the speaker is suddenly struck by a sound as of crunching sand; with this he falls into the Eternal Now. When Aldous Huxley was experiencing psychedelic consciousness, he was asked what he felt about time. He answered, “There seems to be plenty of it.”20 Similarly Guillén: “En el minuto resuena … / Mucho tiempo.”

In the second half of the poem he falls back into duality. This may be seen as similar to the familiar figure/ground illusions, as when we see clouds moving across the moon: one can perceive the clouds as slowly drifting, or one can see the moon “racing.” In the Eternal Now the speaker experiences the Ground of Reality (the clouds in our example). This Ground—literally the sandy beach—fills the world of the mind with its slow, eternal drifting. But then the speaker shifts perspective, observes sequential reality (the moon in our example) and asks: “¿Por qué fluctúa reacio, / Hostil a su movimiento?”

No one can gaze steadily on the Ground; if he could he would not be existing in the karma of this world. To be alive in this world is to be working in the matrix of duality. Two observations will help clarify this point. One is, “If all you have is a hammer, you have to treat everything as a nail.”21 The other is “If you wear shoeleather, the whole earth is covered with leather.”22 This divisible clock-time of profane reality is the hammer and the shoe; slipping into the non-ego reality is removing one's shoes as it were. Nevertheless the sequential reality continues to be evident. One's attention can—and does—“fluctuate” in the figure/ground fashion, as is noted in the Tao Te Ching: “yu wu hsiang sheng”: “Being, Not (-Being) mutually beget.”23 Or (to use Lao Tzu's well-known example) in order to have the empty space in the jar you must make the jar.24 In order for Spirit to contemplate itself there must be a three-dimensional “place”—the human brain. Dual reality is the condition for the capacity to enter into Unity. With the establishment of duality, however, there arises ego-attachment and a certain commitment to the mortal thing of this earth (one's karma). When the speaker of “Sin lamento” observes the shifting of figure / Ground he asks, “¿ Por qué fluctúa reacio, / Hostil a su movimiento?” which I translate as, “Why does it fluctuate stubbornly, / Hostile to its movement?”—“it” being bimodal awareness.

This is to say what we all know to be psychologically true: that ego-intellect jealously guards itself through repression of non-ego awareness. Ego regularly considers itself to be autonomously ensconced in the world of “I-It.” There the great tragedy of life (as Unamuno has told us) is mortality itself, and its affective mode is the sentimiento trágico de la vida. To ego-intellect this appears to be the Great Issue, and ubi sunt expresses tragic nostalgia for the fleetingness of things. But in the sacred reality there is no death—or rather, death is perceived as an illusion, because ego itself is experienced as an illusion, a “playing” of libidinal forces. Somewhere it has been written that liberation consists in accepting the fact that the things of this world go away. The lamento of “Sin lamento” is, of course, the ubi sunt, the attachment to things mortal—beginning with ego's attachment to itself. But to that whole world of the Tragic Sense of Life Guillén says simply, “¡Bah!”

“Por más que el codo / Cavile” is an unusual expression. In the context of “mulling over” the question of time and the brevity of things, one may compare the passage from Azorín (who was an adept in this matter), where he depicts the ages passing over a city, and at one “point in time” he describes a meditative gentleman sitting on a balcony and gazing out over the city:

El caballero se halla sentado en un sillón; tiene el codo puesto en uno de los brazos del asiento y su cabeza reposa en la palma de la mano. Los ojos del caballero están velados por una profunda, indefinible tristeza …25

This is essentially Rodin's Thinker, a kind of modern sphinx. “Elbow-thinking” is the struggle to solve the Problem, the struggle to solve one's koan. Both Azorín and Guillén use ellipses to represent the pensive state, and I take the expression “por más que el codo / Cavile” to be a “transferred epithet” whereby is indicated thinking grounded in the physical (and illusory) self.

The koan is the riddle-problem given to Zen disciples (e.g., “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”). It cannot be solved by any effort of thinking, and Rodin's Thinker will never get his answer, because ego-intellect can never penetrate the mode of non-ego. Ego-intellect believes (as Sri Nisargadatta puts it) that it is in the world—whereas non-ego sees that the world is “in” it.26 Van De Wetering, speaking of his own experience in a Zen center says:

One tries to become one with the koan, to close the distance between oneself and the koan, to lose oneself in the koan, till everything drops or breaks away and nothing is left but the koan which fills the universe.27

This may happen, because the “content” of the koan is nothing else than the nature of Reality. The koan refers to “what everyone brings into this world at his birth and tries to decipher before he dies.”28 But liberation cannot occur through the process of thinking about it. It occurs only when one experiences the falling-away of ego; one shifts modes, and then one sees (for example) that ego-intellect itself is the sound of “one hand clapping.” The point is not really to “solve” a specific riddle, but to awaken from the sleep of ego, to know that the Self is always Here Now. All koans have the same answer.

If there is no lamento (as Guillén tells us) this does not mean that one has suddenly become unfeeling about things mortal. After all, when Guillén says, “no, no hay lamento,” he is admitting that it does indeed intrude itself into consciousness, but that he is now free of its stifling presence. Oshio Chusai has written to this effect, “Even the broken grass, or the fallen tree … gives us sorrow, because we feel they are in our minds.”29 This is the compassion of Buddha; I am identical with the world therefore I am identical with suffering in the world. But Guillén's argumentative “¡Bah!” rejects the feeling that one's personal grief gets to the bottom of things.

The experience of falling into and then out of transcendental consciousness is indicated in “Sin lamento” first by the “click”: the crossing of the threshold experienced as a foot walking on the sand. When Guillén states “Nadie la pisa,” he is saying that he experienced a walking of another kind, and this carries us back to the archetypal image inherent in the word “profane,” pro + fanum. Fanum is a consecrated, or sacred area—a temenos, or magic circle (hence “temple”). “Pro-fane” is the standing before, outside the temenos. The sacred precinct is “sacred” because it is the place where dies that duality which is necessary to profane tasks. By the same token, the Hindus and Buddhists recognize the mandala (Sanskrit, “circle”) both in the ground-plan of temples and in paintings; because the magic circle in the form of a mandala is one means of “centering” oneself in contemplation, and ultimately the temple with its threshold to cross is identical with the mind.

Apropos of our two natures, Basho wrote:

          This autumn,

How old I am getting:

          Ah, the clouds, the birds!(30)

In the first two lines Basho “laments” the passage of time, the brevity of life; but then he reminds himself (as Blyth notes) “of his own true nature, that of the clouds and birds, the clouds which form without joy and dissolve without pain.”31 Or, as Guillén puts it elsewhere, “La realidad me inventa.”32



Permanece el trote aquí

Entre su arranque y mi mano.

Bien ceñida queda así

Su intención de ser lejano.

Porque voy en un corcel

A la maravilla fiel:

Inmóvil con todo brío.

¡Y a fuerza de cuánta calma

Tenjo en bronce toda el alma,

Clara en el cielo del frío!(33)

We have seen that “Sin lamento” is concerned with the dialectic of bimodal consciousness. “Estatua ecuestre” centers particularly on the fact of the union of the observer and the thing observed. It is Deikman's “receptive mode,” induced by full passive attention to an object “out there.” The speaker touches the bronze horse, and this is transformed into a Pegasus. The Plenitude is experienced as a self-sufficient object which manifests the intention of its maker.

This notion does not seem to be precisely evident in the poem, since the three English translations which I have seen strangely mistranslate line four, “Su intención de ser lejano.” These read as follows:

its intention / Of being distant


the instinct to gallop away


its ambition to be far


These clearly will not do, since the original Spanish does not say, “Su intención de estar lejano.” “Su intención de ser lejano” means either (1) “Its intention of existing far away,” or (2) “Its intention belonging to (a) distant being.” Preference here is to avoid the simplistic animism of the first, and to see an analogy with another décima of El pájaro en la mano, “El arco de medio punto.” Contemplating an arcade the speaker says of the arches:

Muro a muro, hueco a hueco,

La Historia es este descanso

Donde opera aún el eco

De una gran voz, hoy ya manso

Discurrir de una armonía

Presente. La galaría

Conduce hasta el gran conjunto …(37)

Here we should note the technical use of the word descanso, “springer,” the support upon which an arch rests. If one translates it as “repose” (Palley38) one misses the architectural picture. Guillén, seeing the arcade—arches “leaping” from one springer to the next—sees the contrast between la Historia and the Presente: in-time as contrasted with out-of-time. The “leaping” is what leads to the gran conjunto that lies bathed in the homogeneous sunlight of the Eternal Present. In contrast to this we have la Historia, the world of sidereal time, of historical evolving. The springers of the arcade represent this static world: the leaping spirit (cf. the arranque of “Estatua ecuestre”) uses the world as its springboard: no world, no spirit. The ascetic withdrawal in search of Unity rejects the world; the artistic commitment to the world uses the world as its “springer.” The architect has expressed this in his design, and his voice—intention—“echoes” there yet.

If we refer this notion to the line “its intention belonging to (a) distant being,” I believe we must take the ser lejano to be the sculptor himself, whose artistic intention continues to “echo” in the equestrian statue.

The grammatical construction used by Guillén is not an unusual feature of his style. It occurs a number of times in Cántico,39 as in the end of the poem, “Luz natal,”40 where he says, “Y la tierra caliza … / Nos refiere a su … / Término de planeta nunca antiguo.” In “El infante”41 he says of the child “su frescura de futuro.” These parallel constructions may be observed:

su intención de                    ser                              lejano

su término                    de                    planeta nunca antiguo

su frescura                    de                    futuro

The principal idea of the first half of “Estatua ecuestre” is, “the artistic intention is exactly expressed here.” The reader of Guillén knows ceñir to be a favorite word, meaning “just so.” The world is wellmade and all is exactly as it should be. He intuits how the artist's intention is incarnated with an exact economy.

The second half of the poem begins with the word porque: “Porque voy en un corcel.” This is to say, “the artist's intention is exactly adjusted to this statue. (How do I know this to be so? I know it) because …”

“Porque voy en un corcel / A la maravilla fiel.” Pleak translates, “a charger / Faithful to the marvel.”42 Howe says, “Keeps faith with a marvel,”43 while Palley translates, “a steed / That's marvelously true.”44 That is, the first two understand fiel to modify corcel; whereas the last invents an idiom by analogy with “a las mil maravillas.” One cannot treat the matter cavalierly, however, because maravilla is one of Guillén's words for centered consciousness (others are gloria, ventura, fábula, dicha, plenitud). Here are examples:

Sábado. ¡Ya gloria aqui! / Maravilla hay para ti.(45)

La maravilla invade violenta y nos rapta.(46)

Creo en la maravilla suficiente / De esta calle.(47)

heme aquí, por vocación dispuesto / Siempre a la maravilla.(48)

Our last example above is the most notable: it is the poet's vocation to remain vigilant, on the watch for the maravilla to occur. The recurring receptive mode of awareness is his vocation.

Fiel appears in Cántico in the sense of “unfailing,” “exact,” “true,” “constant.” This is part of the “well-made world,” which is experienced thanks to the unremitting vigilance of the seer, the fiel desvelo of the décima “Bella adrede” (discussed below). Thus the poet can say in “Estatua ecuestre”: “Porque voy en un corcel / A la maravilla fiel,” which we are free to read as, “Because I am going (on a Pegasus) to the unfailing illumination.”

“Con todo brío” (line seven) appears to allude to the musical term con brio, and as such expresses the numinosity of the perception, just as elswhere Guillén uses refulgencia,49 luminosamente,50 and other photic words.51

The receptive mode of awareness is typically the product of a tranquil state of mind, the “no-strife” of the Taoists, the wu wei, or “do-nothing” passive attention. It is the vacación we find both in Guillén and in Salinas,52 the emptying of the mind; and in “Estatua ecuestre” wu wei appears as the great calm:

¡Y a fuerza de cuánta calma

Tengo en bronce toda el alma,

Clara en el cielo del frío!

The observer's awareness is filled with the existence of cold bronze (“It was as though everything was sort of merging,” said one of Deikman's subjects53—which is precisely the frame of mind captured in good haiku. Blyth describes it as follows:

Haiku is the apprehension of a thing by a realization of our own original and essential unity with it, the word “realization” having the literal meaning [as in Spanish realizar] … The thing perceives itself in us; we perceive it by simple self-consciousness. The joy of the (apparent) re-union of ourselves with things … is thus the happiness of being our true selves.54

By “simple” self-consciousness Blyth means, of course, non-dual awareness. By “(apparent) re-union” he means what all contemplatives have noted, that in the state of illumination the sense of “coming back home” is felt as illusory—because we were never “away” to begin with. The two modes of reality run “parallel” to each other (as Salinas puts it in “Salvación por la luz”55), are separated only by a hair's breadth, and differ only in one's way of looking (“¡Qué antigua es esta mirada, / en mi presente mirando!”56).

The threee translators of “Estatua ecuestre” agree that the poem ends with a sudden reference to the weather. Pleak translates, “Luminous in the cold heavens!”57 Howes says, “Serene in a chilly sky,”58 while Palley expands: “clear in the winter light!”59 If, however, we confine ourselves to minimal interpretation, I believe that a literal reading will suffice: “Clear in the heaven of cold!” This is because frío, if read within the confines of the poem, will refer us to the bronze statue itself, and not to the weather. Buson has a haiku that says:

          The cricket

Climbs up the pot-hanger;

          The night is cold.(60)

Buson experiences not simply the cold night (there is no point in making small talk about the weather); the mind experiences itself in terms of a “foreign object”—the hard, creeping carapace—on the icy metal of the pot-hanger. The numbed mind itself is the vessel that hangs in the cold darkness.61 By the same token, in “Estatua ecuestre” the speaker's identity with the bronze statue shows him how the artist's intention has been “frozen” forever. He began by saying that the “movement of the horse “remains” between a powerful impulse forward and the hand touching it. Insofar as this may be said to be “somewhere” it is the mind of the speaker that awakens precisely “between” his hand and the object that it touches. That is to say, it belongs to both aspects of the world reality: it is neither a “hand touching an object,” nor is it an “object being touched.” It is a Gestalt, the point at which microcosm and macrocosm are fused into one. “Heaven” is a commonplace for “mind,” as in the poem “Lectura,” where Guillén says, “los cielos de la mente.”62 Further, it is the “equilibrium” between micro-/macrocosm, as in the opening poem of Maremágnum:

                                                                                          este momento

—Cualquiera—de una calle así tan rica

Del equilibrio entre el pulmón y el viento.(63)

This is his form of the breathing exercises commonly used in Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist meditation. The wind, or Spiritus, is forever animating the (apparent) two worlds, and it is this balance that leads the sitter to become enlightened, that leads Guillén (or Salinas, or Juan Ramón Jiménez, or Rilke) to become a poet:

A su alma un cuerpo guía

¿Cuál es cuerpo, cuál es alma?

Una voz es: poesía.(64)

In “Estatua ecuestre” the moment of merging occurs when the mind awakens precisely in the Utopia, the Nowhere between hand and object. The observer finds himself in the world of the artist's intention, which is to translate an idea into cold metal. It is cold metal, treated not functionally (analytically) but esthetically. It is cold metal sublimated, translated into the mind of the sculptor. Just as in “Sábado de gloria” Guillén distinguishes between ser and Ser (self and Self),65 So we may say here that the bronze statue represents the sublimation of cold metal into Cold Metal. The artist's vision has been founded, and this is the cielo del frío. It is the abruptness of this discovery that leads to the use of the exclamation mark.



Sobre el hombro solitario

Tan ligero de tan duro,

(Mira a la aurora en apuro,

Fuga del lirio precario)

Guarda luces de un acuario,

(Feria marina en el cielo)

Ardua para el fiel desvelo,

Galatea, bella adrede.

(Mira a la aurora. Ya cede

Lirios al mar paralelo.)(66)

“Bella adrede” carries one step further our train of thought, for it is concerned not only with union, but also with esthetics. Beauty, precisely, is involved, and not “merely” transcendental consciousness.

With consideration of esthetics there arises the interesting hypothesis that the two modes of consciousness are probably relevant to the distinctions we intuit to exist between classical and Romantic awareness; for Romantic awareness appears to be involved at the level of ego-differentiation (the struggle to assert one's existential autonomy and the tragic impossibility of doing so), whereas classical awareness is manifested at the level of self-transcendence, in which the cosmic order is perceived and accepted in its eternal “suchness.” At least no Westerner can fail to be struck by the assertive but tranquil centeredness (“classicism”) of Japanese art, the fruit of Zen Buddhism. Thus the powerful haiku by Buson, who finds himself suddenly centered by the insistent beating down of the winter rain:

          The winter rain

Shows what is before our eyes,

          As though it were long ago.(67)

Or again:

          The evenings of the ancients

Were like mine,

          This evening of cold rain.(68)

Similarly Shiki writes:

          The long night;

I think about

          A thousand years afterwards.(69)

The Hindu formula which expresses the transcendental awareness is summed up in the threefold sat-chit-ananda, “Being-Consciousness-Bliss,” which means that one experiences Reality as identical with one's own consciousness, and that this perception is totally satisfying, complete, “well-made.” It is this bliss that translates into the esthetic experience of the transcendental poets, who perceive the clarity of the cosmic order (we may recall the meaningful association between “cosmos” and “cosmetic”). Further, we may say that classical art is the search for such expression; classical art seeks Beauty “on purpose,” and rests in sat-chit-ananda. Various schools of modern art are noted not for immersion in an Eternal Beauty, but for the pursuit of significance in the historical moment. Non-ego centeredness sees the cosmos as “naked,” and “obvious” (Guillén: “¿Qué es ventura? Lo que es.”70 Thus Guillén, in his contemplation of the classical mode, sees this as beauty “on purpose.” It becomes clear to him that the artist was consciously seeking to incarnate a standard of beauty to be found only outside time (cf. the notion that much modern art is “ugly on purpose”). Thus his meditation on Raphael's The Triumph of Galatea (c. 1514): “Bella adrede.”

The poem concerns primarily the knowledge that Raphael's intention was to achieve beauty deliberately (not like that of a De Kooning—to achieve powerful ugliness deliberately—nor like that of a Pollock—to achieve beauty “spontaneously”). The pose of Galatea presents a difficult task, and this is what Guillén means when he says that the principal figure in the fresco is ardua. Arduo, after all, applies to tasks, or efforts, not to people. The figure of Galatea is “ardua para el fiel desvelo,” which expresses the realization that Raphael has accomplished a tour de force. Desvelo is the vigilant attention of the Self (cf. Jorge Blajot Pena: “nuestra vigilia creadora / en … espera de una alborada,” in “Pausa de voz”71); being a discipline, it is unfailing. It is not unlike the fiel vigilance of the Zen adept, who exists in this world like a clock ticking away during a thunderstorm.

The myth of Polyphemus and Galatea shows an interaction between the telluric (chthonic) and the spiritual (uranic). That is to say, Polyphemus, as an earth giant, represents the massive pull downward of the instinctual realm (=lust), whereas Galatea, as a beautiful nymph, is the symbol of the selfless sublimation of the psyche (=love). Here she triumphs and is borne across the ocean by dolphins. She looks over her right shoulder at the aurora—the aurora of poets and mystics alike, the transforming illumination:72 the transcending of ego/world duality, the fusion that is always experienced as liberating love—and for seculars, characteristically experienced through the person of the beloved. This accomplishes the transformation from living reality as alien (“I-It”) into living it as liberation from the illusions of ego-attachments (“I-Thou”).

Guillén focusses on a twofold experience: astonishment at the fresco itself as a tour de force, and contemplation (through the eyes of Raphael) of the meaning of liberation, or transformation: Galatea, looking over her right shoulder at the struggling dawn. The implied image (since the site of the fresco also has a Polyphemus) is the dynamic relationship—the dialectic—between Galatea and Polyphemus. Out of the primal One are born the two, the chthonic and the uranic. The chthonic incarnation occurs in time—or rather, sidereal time is born when the earthbound personal ego begins to crystallize. This is experienced as a fleeting Becoming (“fuga del lirio presente”). The chromatic aspects of the Galatea figure agree with the posing of her on the sea,75 and suggests the transformation from subliminal or pre-conscious depths into the transcendental light of the dawn (the Jungian “fragmentation” of the unconscious): “Guarda luces de un acuario.” The transcensión creates a “feria marina en el cielo.” This is the triumph of the classical desvelo. With the rising of the Sun the entire horizon is lit and the light of day (or classical consciousness) moves from the precarious Becoming of lilies (or irises) to a steady relationship between the chthonic and the uranic: “Ya cede / lirios al mar paralelo.”

The “ceding” corresponds to the passage (in mysticism) from Illumination to Union. Romantic art is powerfully drawn to the moment of dawning, or ego-differentiation. Classical art is drawn to the Unitive awareness, wherein the excitement of Becoming is transcended. Juan Ramón Jiménez describes this latter state in “Al centro rayeante.” He calls himself an “animal de fondo de aire,” which means a telluric animal with Spiritus, and he describes centeredness thusly:

Tú vienes con mi norte hacia mi sur,

tú vienes de mi este hacia mi oeste,

tú me acompañas, cruce único, y me guías

entre los cuatro puntos inmortales,

dejándome en su centro siempre y en mi centro

que es tu centro.(74)

The entire process involved his knowledge of love through the person of Zenobia, whom we regard as the “carrier of the anima projection,” the one who activates the feminine unconscious so that this “awakens” (is raised to consciousness) and looks at the Sun (“estabas antes tú … con la aurora / en un llegar carmín de vida renovada”75). Galatea (as Ovid tells us) wants to escape the lust of Polyphemus, who begs her, “Do just raise your shining head from the deep blue sea.”76 Thus, “Bella adrede” could be paraphrased:

Over her one exposed shoulder,

So freely in motion thanks to its chromatic solidity,

(She looks at the struggling dawn,

Like the fleeting Becoming of the evanescent lily)

She retains her aquarium-like colors,

(Now a marine celebration in the sky)

She, a most difficult task for disciplined attention,

She, Galatea, a figure of beauty created intentionally.

(She looks at the dawn. Now this consciousness transcends

The lily-like evanescence and becomes a constant relationship).

It is this view of the Quest in art that appears to separate the worlds of classical and Romantic temperaments: for each human being must answer the interior question, “What am I seeking? What is self-fulfillment?” Romanticism appears to be the koan, while classicism stands on the other side of the illumination. The Romantic artist is the struggling disciple; the “classical” poet bears witness to Reality. Guillén's poems, with their elaborate equilibrium, tell us finally that Reality is not that which is struggling to be, but rather that which is.


  1. Charles T. Tart, ed., Altered States of Consciousness (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1969).

  2. Arthur Deikman, “Bimodal Consciousness and the Mystic Experience,” in Philip R. Lee, Robert E. Ornstein, David Galin, Arthur Deikman, Charles T. Tart, Symposium on Consciousness (New York: Viking Press, 1974), pp. 67-88.

  3. Ibid. p. 72.

  4. Loc. cit.

  5. Cf. Lawrence LeShan, The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist (New York: Viking Press, 1974), pp. 158-59.

  6. Nils O. Jacobson, Life Without Death? (New York: Delacorte Press, 1973), pp. 242-46.

  7. This fact is central to R.H. Blyth's remarkable and seminal study in four volumes, Haiku (Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1949-52).

  8. Ibid., II, 150.

  9. Pedro Salinas, Poesías completas (Barcelona: Barral, 1971), p.58.

  10. Jorge Guillén, El argumento de la obra (Milan: All'insegna del pesce d'oro), p.9.

  11. See (1) John C.H. Wu, Lao Tzu/Tao Te Ching (New York: St John's University Press, 1961), p. 6, last line of the Chinese text; (2) G.D. Wilder and J.H. Ingram, Analysis of Chinese Characters (New York: Dover Publications, 1974), No. 57. This is a reissue of the original 1922 edition.

  12. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That (Bombay: Chetana, 1973), p. 253.

  13. Jorge Guillén, Cántico (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1950), p. 235.

  14. Jane Roberts, Psychic Politics (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976), pp. 22-23.

  15. Ibid., p. 22.

  16. Blyth, II, 23.

  17. Ibid., III, 20.

  18. Ibid., p. 77.

  19. Guillén, p. 241.

  20. Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (New York: Harper and Bros., 1954), p. 21.

  21. Quoted in Lawrence LeShan, Alternate Realities (New York: M. Evans, 1976), p. 70.

  22. Quoted in Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass), Be Here Now (Albuquerque: Lama Foundation, 1971). Book is unpaginated; see section entitled “Ashtanga Yoga.”

  23. Wu, p. 2.

  24. Ibid. p. 14.

  25. José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín), “Una ciudad y un balcón,” Castilla (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1952), p. 64.

  26. Nisargadatta, p. 48.

  27. Janwillem van de Wetering, The Empty Mirror: Experience in a Japanese Zen Monastery (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), p. 15.

  28. A.Reza Arasteh, “Final Integration in Adult Personality,” in John White, ed., Frontiers of Consciousness (New York: Julian Press, 1974), p. 21.

  29. Quoted in Blyth, I, 78.

  30. Ibid., III, 334.

  31. Loc. cit.

  32. Guillén, p. 18.

  33. Ibid., p. 223.

  34. Frances A. Pleak, The Poetry of Jorge Guillén (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1942), p. 18.

  35. Barbara Howes, in N.T. di Giovanni, ed., Cántico: A Selection (Boston:Little, Brown, 1965), p. 153.

  36. Julian Palley, trans., Affirmation: A Bilingual Anthology, 1919-1966 (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), p. 57.

  37. Guillén, p. 225.

  38. Palley, p. 59. In order to make the line scan translator gives “rare repose.”

  39. See, for example, “Su plenitud de julio” (“Tiempo libre,” p. 159); “Sus líneas / De mozos” (“Otoño, pericia,” p. 188); “su rigor de elemento” (“A vista de hombre,” p. 212); “su impulso de mar” (Ibid., p. 214); “su ansia de la raíz” (“Arbol de estío,” p. 294); “su centro firme de planeta” (“Aire bailado,” p. 435); “sus dones … de incógnito” (“Caminante de puerto, noche sin luna,” p. 455).

  40. Ibid., p. 350.

  41. Ibid., p. 381

  42. Pleak, p. 18.

  43. Howes, p. 153.

  44. Palley, p. 57

  45. Guillén, “Sábado de gloria,” p. 122.

  46. Guillén, “Cielo del poniente,” p. 256.

  47. Guillén, “Media mañana,” p. 306.

  48. Guillén, … que van a dar en la mar (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1960), p. 148.

  49. Guillén, “Esfera terrestre,” Cántico, p. 30.

  50. Guillén, “Las soledades interrumpidas,” ibid., p. 32.

  51. That brío is a photic word for Guillén is indicated in his décima, “Presencia de la luz,” where he writes,” el brío / de esta luz” (Ibid., p. 241).

  52. In Cántico, see “Vacación” (pp. 138-9), and “El distraído” (pp. 191-4), where the speaker is “el más vacante.” See also the opening line of Pedro Salinas' poem, “Madrid. Calle de …”: “¡Qué vacación de espejo … !” (op.cit., p. 132).

  53. Deikman, p. 72.

  54. Blyth, I, vii-viii.

  55. “… esa larga mirada … paralela del tiempo,” Salinas, p. 589.

  56. “Presagio,” ibid., p. 587.

  57. Pleak, p. 18.

  58. Howes, p. 153.

  59. Palley, p. 57.

  60. Blyth, I, 340.

  61. The mind-as-vessel is a traditional Buddhist symbol; the Japanese soko nukete, “bottom dropping out,” means enlightenment; and it is this that Buson recalls in the haiku that says, “There was a tub / With no bottom, / Rolling in the autumn blast.” See Blyth, III, 416-7, and IV, 234. See also Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary, No. 6635: t'ung ti t'o, “the bottom of the tub has fallen out,” meaning bodily death. Illumination is consistently experienced as ego-death.

  62. Guillén, p. 187.

  63. Guillén, Maremágnum (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1957), p. 15.

  64. Ibid., p. 128.

  65. “¡Viva el Ser al ser más fiel!”, Cántico, p. 122.

  66. Ibid., p. 227.

  67. Blyth, IV, 229.

  68. Ibid., p. 227.

  69. Ibid., III, 359.

  70. “En plenitud,” Guillén, p. 232.

  71. Jorge Blajot Pena, “Pausa de voz,” F. Carlos Sainz de Robles, ed., Historia y antología de la poesía española (Madrid: Aguilar, 1967), II, 2489.

  72. E.g., Aurora consurgens, attributed to Thomas Aquinas; and Aurora, by Jacob Boehme.

  73. The chromatic aspects of Raphael's painting have been described by Anna María Brizzo, in her article on Raphael for the Encyclopedia of World Art (vol. XI, 83-69). Discussing the visual impact of his work, she refers to “the hard intarsia” of his color, which “results in an enamellike polychromy” (p. 846). Of the Galatea figure Brizzo notes that “the impulse of her motion is freer”—i.e., ligero—and that “the surface of the sea has the polish of the marble of opus sectile” (p. 854). “Intarsia” is wooden mosaic; opus sectile is mosaic (Latin sectilis, “cut, cloven”. It is interesting that the critic should, like Guillén in the second line of “Bella adrede,” take special note of the qualities of ligero and duro.

  74. Juan Ramón Jiménez, “Al centro rayeante,” Libros de poesía (Madrid: Aguilar, 1957), pp. 1342-3.

  75. “Soy animal de fondo,” ibid., pp. 1381-2.

  76. The Metamorphoses of Ovid, the Innes translation (London: Penguin, 1955), p. 334.

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