Composer Toru Takemitsu begins his essay “Nature and Music”[i] with these words:
This summer , walking through the fields of Hokkaido, I could not help thinking
This is a fascinating sentence. Like a “good theme” in music[ii], it holds a potential composition like a seed holds a potential plant.
It’s tempting to take the first half of the sentence,
This summer , walking through the fields of Hokkaido,
I could not help thinking ...,
as colorful but superfluous – a kind of grace note attached to the real theme expressed in the rather gray analogy,
... my own thoughts have come to resemble the sidewalks of a city:
rigid and calculated.
But the seemingly superfluous “information” in the antecedent – season and location – actually offers a perspective helpful in understanding Takemitsu’s genius (in the ancient sense of “generative power”) and perhaps the Japanese cultural genius as well.
Take what has become the most famous of all Japanese poetic forms, the haiku. If we ignore the supposed technical requirement of seventeen “on” arranged as three lines of 5, 7, and 5 “syllables,”[iii] we might arrange our superfluous grace note into a free-form haiku:
Walking through the fields of Hokkaido
I could not help thinking
The hallmarks of haiku are here without having to count to 17: a seasonal reference, “summer”; a reference to nature, “the fields of Hokkaido”; and “this summer” serves to “cut” the apposition of “walking” and “thinking.” OK, that’s far-fetched, but not nearly as much as any attempt to do the same to the sentence’s consequent. For example,
Rigid and calculated
My own thoughts –
Sidewalks of a city
No matter how you put it together, it’s prosaic. Nevertheless, both antecedent and consequent, poetry and prose, occupy the same world, and that's the point. It's how Takemitsu deals with the problematic human element – “the tawdry and seamy side of human existence” – in Nature and Music.
... Standing there in a field with an uninterrupted view of forty kilometers, I thought that the city, because of its very nature, would someday be outmoded and abandoned as a passing phenomenon. The unnatural quality of city life results from an abnormal swelling of the nerve endings.
Toru Takemitsu died February 20, 1996. On March 24, a letter to the editor in the New York Times gave the following personal remembrance:
Paula Deitz's article "A Creator of Gardens in Sound, He Looked Only Ahead" [March 3] brought to mind my favorite memory of Toru Takemitsu. It dates back to April 1992, when he was in Seattle as the guest of honor at a weeklong festival devoted to his music.
[I] “Nature and Music” is the first essay in Confronting Silence, selected writings. Toru Takemitsu. Tr. & ed. Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow (1995)
[ii] “’A good theme is a gift of God,’ [Brahms] said; and he concluded with a word of Goethe: ‘Deserve it in order to possess it.’” – Arnold Schoenberg, “Heart and Brain in Music” (1946)
[iii] The notion that a haiku must have 17 “syllables” corrupts the form in Japanese which often (but certainly not always) calls for 17 “on” which means “sound.” A fairly good non-popularized sense of haiku can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku. More about the distinction between “on” and “syllable” can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_(Japanese_prosody). Readers who want to do a deep dive (in English) into the form, its relationship to Zen, and surprising connections to western literature can hardly do better than the works of R. H. Blyth (bio & bib at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Horace_Blyth). Blyth was an accomplished violinist and cellist who spent WWII as a “detainee” in Korea and Japan, often playing western chamber music with several of his Japanese guards.
[iv] Goethe to Eckermann: “[R]eality must give both impulse and material. ... Reality must give the motive, the points to be expressed – the kernel; but to work out of it a beautiful animated whole belongs to the poet.”