Paul Reps’ Green Tea


Paul Reps (1895 – 1990) (USA)

First, some background on this haiga:

“In the early ‘50s, Reps, who was in his forties, had traveled to Japan en route to visit a respected Zen master in Korea. He went to the passport office to apply for his visa and was politely informed that his request was denied due to the conflict that had just broken out. Reps walked away, and sat down quietly in the waiting area. He reached into his bag, pulled out his thermos and poured a cup of tea. Finishing his tea, he pulled out a brush and paper upon which he wrote a picture poem. The clerk read the poem and it brought tears to his eyes. He smiled, bowed with respect, and stamped Reps’ passport for passage to Korea.”

– Excerpt from Living in Balance, by Joel & Michelle Levey


This short, intense poem has two aspects that make it interesting and deep in many ways. One aspect is related to our desire to calm our head after fatigue or mental stress. The green tea acts as a pacifier that brings the poet’s chaotic mind to peace. I believe in “tea meditation,” as it helps us to change our intense feelings that are usually a result of our shallow thoughts.

Keeping the background of this poem in mind, I think it is about fatigue due to the person feeling irritated or frustrated. It may be due to his long journey to another country, where he is not getting proper assistance. The tea brought soothing effects to his mind and he started thinking rationally about the situation.

Another deep aspect of this poem is spiritual, where a drink is the central part of the meditation practice. It is said that drinking green/herbal tea not only changes our biochemistry, but also helps us to filter/purify certain thoughts/feelings that are toxic in our nature. Every single sip of a drink works to simmer down our intense emotions and eventually facilitates us to clear our mind.

Besides these two aspects, I also see a deep connection between the person and nature, where green tea acts as fresh air in the chaotic life of a person, and helps him to get rid of the war that usually takes place in his mind.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

From the time we are little babies, we learn to simmer down by drinking milk. To drink is a way to get in touch with our mother, and in the beginning, our mother is all of our world, so we begin to make experiences of the world by sipping. Soon, we learn also that tensions can be released by sipping milk from our mother’s breasts, and the link is that we need to sip to settle down mental or physical pain.

Later on, we can lose this habit. Usually, we find a substitute with our favorite drink and take a pause from the world, and quite often from its bitterness, by drinking it… many people unfortunately make use of alcohol, trying to relax themselves … in Italy we have the “coffee break,” which i would rather call the “tea break”… Seriously talking, a tea, even if we focus only on the water by which it is made, it has electrolytes which help the nervous system to calm down and to work in its best way.

The “cha no yu” or tea ceremony in Japanese culture has its sovereignty in the green powder melted in hot water with elegance, calm gestures, and clean movements, which add magic to the rite. There’s no doubt the monks can meditate at their best after a cup of it.

The poet uses a four-line structure, reproducing the interruptions caused by sipping, opening the second line with “of” as if he is talking and suddenly he has to stop and sip before going ahead with the poem…

To accept a conflict and not to let it steal our energies means to have the third chakra, in the area of the stomach, well balanced. People who practice meditation know that wars are probably started by people with problems with the third chakra…. Furthermore, we can move on from bad experiences if we can “digest” them, and a hot cup of tea in our hands, or better, a bowl, can really make the difference for this chakra, helping to relieve any difficulty in the process of metabolism of difficult feelings we need to cross, accept, and also let go of …

I’m amazed by the spirituality very well conveyed by Reps in his ink drawing. The perfection of the lines recalls an ensō in my mind, and reminds me of how important it is to stop and look inside, in the circle of our inner world, to find a clean, simple but powerful thought of purity and peace. The meditation of the author sounds like it is activated by the green tea’s molecules, which could set forth a chemical change soon perceived by his neurons, and felt as the strong inner movement of stopping something dangerous, a war. If only we could all do this, and together, there would be no more wars in the world… A very touching poem, with a wise and powerful message.

Lucia Fontana (Italy)

This Zenku is beloved for its simplicity. The pacing of the poem, the starkness of the painting, and the surprising last line creates many feelings and interpretations. We often forget that the commonplace can solve world problems. Moments of peace can add up to world peace.

The sense of sound works effectively too. The “o”s in “bowl,” “of,” and “stop” give a sense of vastness, in my opinion. Also, the “r”s in “drinking,” “green,” and “war” provide a feeling of roundness, like a whirring.

Sometimes things are inexplicable, but not, at the same time. I think this applies to this haiga.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

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Panagiotis Kentikelenis’ Kin

closed casket kin gather after a long time

© Panagiotis Kentikelenis (Greece)

A heartfelt senryu that reflects human miseries and departures. “closed casket” may symbolize death, annihilation, and endless miseries where a person exists but does not live life fully. In this case, I can see the departure of a lone person who was abandoned by his family and/or having prolonged illness. The only misery here is that people wait for the death of such relatives, who become a hassle for the family—especially when one has to visit them every day. These days, people rarely visit their relatives because of busy lives. So, only the departure of someone makes an extended family come together in order to attend the funeral, and that visit is just a formality in most cases. So, the closed casket also symbolizes the death of values, sympathy, and the human factor that is missing these days.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I was impressed by this strong juxtaposition around the topic of accepting death. By reading this poem, i tumbled into one of the myths i most love: Orpheus and Eurydice. Famous is the unforgivable mistake the lover commits by coming back from the realm of the dead, the Persephone’s, the underworld. According to Phaedrus in Plato’s Symposium, the infernal deities only “presented an apparition” of Eurydice to him. Plato’s representation of Orpheus is in fact that of a coward; instead of choosing to die in order to be with his love, he mocked the deities in an attempt to visit Hades, to get her back alive. As his love was not “true”—meaning that he was not willing to die for it—he was punished by the deities, first by giving him only the apparition of his former wife in the underworld and then by having him killed.

Coming back to the words of the poem, “kin gather after a long time” gives the idea of escapement and a sad reason to meet each other. It is the consequence of the increasing loss of family bounds in contemporary society, no more interested in developing emotional ties among blood relatives as in the past….

This poem is a chilling warning to live life generously by sharing our emotions and experiences rather than to be lonely and self centered.

Lucia Fontana (Italy)

Senryu often exhibit a dark irony, and this poem is a fine example of this case. A family comes together to see a loved one at a funeral that has not seen each other for an extended period of time, but they do not even have a chance to see this relative due to the closed casket. It reminds me of when certain relatives at a particular funeral I attended gave many flowers, but they rarely gave flowers to this person during the time she was alive. As Hifsa said, family gatherings, even funerals, are now becoming increasingly detached from emotion and connection. The irony in this senryu points to this societal conundrum well without stating it.

I also enjoyed the economy of this senryu, as in only eight words, it carries a lot of meaning and implications. This is even more evident in the fact that it is a one-liner. By being a monoku, it can be read in several ways: “closed casket/kin gather after a long time,” “closed casket kin/ gather after a long time,” and “closed casket kin gather after a long time.” This allows the reader to find more nuances in this seemingly simple verse.

Sonically, the first three words begin with a “k” sound. This lends to the starkness of the moment. In addition, the long “o”s of “closed” and “long” adds to the melancholy.

A succinct one-line senryu that creates pointed commentary on the nature of our modern familial relationships—especially its disconnection.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

– Art by Ron Frazier

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