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This report is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

Looking at Derek Mahon from Japan Judy Kendall

In the second two verses of 'The Snow Party', Derek Mahon is apparently encouraging us to witness the seventeenth-century haikai writer, Basho, participating in the delicate and separate world of Japanese tea ceremony and what seems to be a snow-viewing party:

There is a tinkling of china
And tea into china;
There are introductions.

Then everyone
Crowds to the window
To watch the falling snow.

Now, I have to confess that in my years in Japan I have not yet heard of a snow-viewing party, but given that I have participated in tea ceremony moon-viewing parties, cherry blossom parties and wisteria-viewing parties, it seems a very plausible concept. Certainly, I can clearly remember one occasion when I was firmly guided outside to eat my dinner on a garden table in the snow by a rather enthusiastic appreciator of the seasons.

However, I begin to have difficulties with ' tinkling of china'. Surely 'tinkling' is wrong for a tea ceremony? There are no cups and saucers, only ceramic bowls - and no spoons. Also, in the making of the tea, every sound is carefully and deliberately orchestrated: the swishing of the bamboo, the tapping of the wood, the brushing of cloth - all are executed in harmony with the sound of trickling water and escaping steam. Yet, none of this is evoked by 'tinkling', with its implication of twee casualness. Is Mahon intending to demonstrate to ...


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