When I heard the learn’d astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Today we have a very short poem by Robert Frost that, in typical Frost fashion, condenses deep truth into something that would fit on a greeting card or a refrigerator magnet. Robert Frost was brilliant that way.
We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
Now the big question: how can we apply this to our study of music? Do our suppositions and banjo forum games of dancing around in circles blind us to the answers right in front of us? Is the secret so many students waste hours, days, weeks, years, decades and beyond just sitting in the open? Hiding in plain sight?
What is is Takuan trying to say here? Is talking about water the same as drinking water? Can we understand the heat of fire without actually warming our hands? How could we apply this thinking to our training in music?
Perhaps practicing slowly at home is not the same as diving into a jam session?
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.
To all Ways there are side-tracks. If you study a Way daily, and your spirit diverges, you may think you are obeying a good way, but objectively it is not the true Way. If you are following the true Way and diverge a little, this will later become a large divergence. You must realise this.
Musashi’s tone here is stern, but there is a lot to think about in these words. What would be a side-track to your chosen Way? Is a small divergence going to grow over time? How do we even know if we are following our true Way?
The quote is highly Americanized. Like most ancient Chinese writings, English translations vary depending on who does the translating.
The quote itself comes from the seventeenth chapter of Chuang Tzu’s writings.
Zo, (the Spirit-lord) of the Northern Sea, said, ‘A frog in a well cannot be talked with about the sea;– he is confined to the limits of his hole. An insect of the summer cannot be talked with about ice;– it knows nothing beyond its own season.