Robert's Reviews > The Book of Tea

The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura
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's review
Dec 13, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: spirituality, philosophy
Read in January, 2008

This book isn't just about tea; it's more about Zen and aesthetics. I loved the following story:

Once in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a Kiri tree, a veritable king of the forest. It reared its head to talk to the stars; its roots struck deep into the earth, mingling their bronzed coils with those of the silver dragon that slept beneath. And it came to pass that a mighty wizard made of this tree a wondrous harp, whose stubborn spirit should be tamed but by the greatest musicians. For long the instrument was treasured by the Emperor of China, but all in vain were the efforts of those who in turn tried to draw melody from its strings. The harp refused to recognize a master.

"At last came Peiwoh, the prince of harpists. With tender hand he caressed the harp as one might seek to soothe an unruly horse, and softly touched the chords. He sang of nature and the seasons, of high mountains and flowing waters, and all the memories of the tree awoke! Once more the sweet breath of spring played amidst its branches. The young cataracts, as they danced down the ravine, laughed to the budding flowers, the gentle pattering of rain, the wail of the cuckoo. Hark! A tiger roars, - the valley answers again. It is autumn; in the desert night, sharp like a sword gleams the moon upon the frosted grass. Now winter reigns, and through the snow-filled air swirl flocks of swans and rattling hailstones beat upon the boughs with fierce delight.

Then Peiwoh changed the key and sang of love. The forest swayed like an ardent swain deep lost in thought. On high, like a haughty maiden, swept a cloud bright and fair; but passing, trailed long shadows on the ground, black like despair… In ecstasy the Celestial monarch asked Peiwoh wherein lay the secret of his victory. “Sire,” he replied, “others have failed because they sang but of themselves. I left the harp to choose its theme, and knew not truly whether the harp had been Peiwoh or Peiwoh were the harp.”

Okakura Kakuzo in The Book of Tea uses this story to illustrate the mystery of art appreciation. Peiwoh represents art and humanity is the harp. “At the magic touch of the beautiful” says Kakuzo “the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognize, stand forth in new glory…The art lover transcends himself.”
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