Wordless Poem


Is a wordless poem a contradiction in itself?
Is it a Zen koan ?

How does it relate to haiku as a "wordless poem" ?

A haiku which is clear and easy to understand, gives me a simple image to start from, is "wordless", since I can be "right there" with the author and go on from there on my own wanderings.

A haiku which contains a riddle or ambiguity that put me right into my "thinking" mind, trying to "understand" what I am reading, does not seem to be "wordless".



Write a wordless poem,
show me a wordless poem !

If you try to solve this with the rational mind,
where does this lead you ?

If you try to solve this with a Zen-mind,
where does this lead you?

wordless poem ?
yes, a wordless poem
a wordless poem

Inspried by the famous Matsushima ya
MATSUSHIMA ya sate Matsushima ya MATSUSHIMA ya

Here is an appreciation of this poem by
Jack Galmitz (THF)

How deft and brilliant. The cutting is created by the question and response, nothing unusual in that, but unusual enough in ELH, which often relies on dashes, ellipsis, etc for cutting.

And, another way of cutting used here is the question and response form, uniquely used here.

I admire the use of a questioning stance in the first line, and the affirmation of the second and third lines, another unusual and excellent way to juxtapose.

But, what I really like is that Dr. Greve delights in paradox once again. At first reading, it would seem a merely humorous commentary on the idea of an impossibility, a wordless poem (really?), because the second and third lines are intentionally repetitive and verbiose (for such a short poem) and suggest that a wordless poem is impossible, there’s nothing in answer but words,words,words, and this completely disavows the legitimacy, even the credibility, of such a thing.

But, then on a second read, we have the possibility of another reading- it reads, the whole poem,like recitative Buddhist practice, chanting over and over the same words until the worshipper eventually loses all sense of words and enters a space where words have lost their meaning and there you would have it- the place/existence of a wordless poem.

The poem is multilayered and fun and serious and I’m sure there are more interpretations that you can think of as you ponder the poem.

source : THF, 11th Sailing


his wordless poem -
I use my third eye
to drink it

Here is an appreciation of this poem by
Jack Galmitz (THF)

This poem is as excellent as Dr. Greve herself. She mentioned elsewhere that she mastered Zen archery and now practices archery in a forest without a bow, having refined herself to such a degree through her practice with an actual bow. And, in her poems she shows a mastery of words that she has earned through many years of devotion to the art of haiku.

The poem, I take it, is simultaneously witty, humorous, and also quite serious. The first impression is one of seeming denial; a wordless poem is as real as the third eye is real. But, then, there’s a second look by the reader. Wait a minute. The third eye is a spiritual term that is not to be understood as existing in the body (although some beliefs hold that it is the peneal (sp?) gland that is opened through spiritual practices), but is more generally understood to mean that one who has opened their third eye is someone who has refined themselves through spiritual practice and has spiritual sight.

So, the poem can be understood in two ways simultaneously-something that Dr. Greve appreciates about paradox generally. It is both a spoof and a serious vision at once!
I find it enchanting and brilliant and in few words expresses what we have all be trying to do with much verbiage.

source : THF, 11th Sailing


If you are not familiar with Bodhidarma (Daruma san), the first patriarch of the Zen sect, check out my Daruma pages for more details about his life and influence.


nature shows us
so many wordless poems ...
just look around

wordless poem
wordless haiku
wordless mind


Humor and Enlightenment

One of Buddha's disciples reveals his enlightenment through
a 'wordless smile.'

This smile was passed along until the Bodhidharma (Daruma san) brought it to China, where the smile was transformed into thundering laughter.
In the real world, we see how one can spontaneously trigger laughter, and this reflects the Zen tradition of how the realization of enlightenment is also spontaneous.

. Sengai Gibbon, Zen Master


Bodhidharma Quotes

If you know that everything comes from the mind,
don't become attached.
Once attached, you're unaware.
But once you see your own nature,
the entire Canon becomes so much prose.
It's thousands of sutras and shastras only amount to a clear mind.
Understanding comes in midsentence.

What good are doctrines?
The ultimate Truth is beyond words.
Doctrines are words.
They're not the Way.
The Way is wordless.
Words are illusions. . . .

Don't cling to appearances,
and you'll break through all barriers. . . .

source : The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma
p. 31


We are told by R.H. Blyth that
"what can be said is not sabi."
That imposes no obstacle to a haijin who understands Zen "wordlessness" as an eloquent form of communion.

WKD : Wabi, Sabi and Haiku

the bejeweled finger
the bejeweled hand

The Finger pointing to the moon ... Basho Koan


. MU, Nothingness, the Void.....無  

The Gateless Gate / Mumonkan むもんかん【無門関】
Gateless Barrier / a KOAN collection

Reference : Mumonkan


samples from googeling

Music for Winds, Wordless Haiku, opus 134

Wordless Haiku our first music video

Wordless—Haiku poetry

a wordless haiku: songs of birds

my hand-held recorder coils my wordless haiku into dislocated syllables of syntactic collusion

wordless haiku by buddhabitch

wordless haiku by bad taste

The tarot is a mood-enhancer, a wordless haiku, a shelter or a lowered bridge.

so now the scene is frozen in my thoughts as a silent, wordless haiku

It is a wordless haiku, a daydream, an allegory.

The spring dawn a wordless haiku: sounds of birds

source : wordless haiku


R. H. Blyth

The Hsinhsinming (Hsin-hsin Ming)
Seng T'san, Third Chan (Zen) Patriarch

"The "Hsinhsinming" then, is rather the basis for a theory of poetry, or the philosophic background, an expression of the implicit "raison d'etre" of the composition of certain kinds of poetry,
like that of haiku,
of Wordsworth and Clare, of Tao Chinnimg (Toenmei) and Po Chui (Hakukyoi).
In explaining and illustrating the "Hsinhsinming" I have therefore quoted the poets rather than the religious writers.
The poetry is the flower, the "Hsinhsinming" is the roots."
RH Blyth

the Four Statements of the Zen Sect

1. No dependence on words and letters.
2. A special transmission outside the Scriptures.
3. Direct pointing to the soul of man.
4. Seeing into one's nature
and the attainment of Buddhahood.

Sengtsan, Seng-Ts'an
(Japanese: Kanchi Sosan 鑑智僧サン大和尚
He became the disciple of the Second Patriarch and practiced austerities and led a life of devotion and poverty, receiving the bowl and the robe, insignia of the transmission through Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch (of China) of the Buddha Mind.

Details are HERE

Reference : Hsin-hsin Ming


Eric Amann
Haiku Society of Canada

Amann believed that the haiku should be considered "as an expression of Zen in poetry and he printed in Haiku only work that fit the Zen outlook. During this period, he also brought out his best-known work,
The Wordless Poem (1969), which elaborated his views.

source : Simply Haiku 2007

Le poème sans mots

ein Gedicht ohne Worte


Alan Watts called haiku “the wordless poem”

Haiku interest grew phenomenally during this decade which saw the birth of the "Hippie" culture with its interest in Eastern art, literature, music, religion and philosophy that far surpassed anything generated by the Beats. A major influence during this time was the philosopher Alan Watts whose writings and recordings used haiku (what he called "the wordless poem") as a way of illustrating Zen principles (Higginson 1985, 67).
Thus, Watts reinforced the impression left by the Beats that haiku had something to do with Zen (Watts 1960).

source : Simply Haiku, 2006


Cor van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology:
Third Edition (New York: Norton, 2000)
source : fictionwise.com/ebooks

When I first read Alan Watt's characterization of haiku as "the wordless poem," I thought it was because a haiku had so few words, but now I believe it goes deeper than that (whether Watts intended it so or not).
Haiku, for the reader, is wordless because those few words are invisible.
We as readers look right through them.
There is nothing between us and the moment.


birch tree --
i leave on it
a wordless poem

Stanford M. Forrester, USA
WHC showcase 92



The nun Wu Jincang asked the Sixth Patriach Huineng, “I have studied the Mahaparinirvana sutra for many years, yet there are many areas i do not quite understand. Please enlighten me.”

The patriach responded, “I am illiterate. Please read out the characters to me and perhaps i will be able to explain the meaning.”
Said the nun, “You cannot even recognize the characters. How are you able then to understand the meaning?”

“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location.
owever, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”


The point of haiku is to let us SEE and thus feel something, and not (generally) to let us see who is pointing at that something, or what he or she thinks about it. Consequently, making the tricks and distractions disappear and become essentially invisible is, for me, what Alan Watts and Eric Amann meant by calling haiku a “wordless” poem — where we no longer see any of the words, and go straight to an image and the emotion it produces.
For me, starting each line with a capital letter screams “look at my words” and takes me out of image.
Michael Dylan Welch

Discussion at the THF BLOG


spring is here !
three wordless smiles
by the roadside

03 three yellow sisters narcissus

Gabi Greve, Spring 2010


ZEN and Haiku ... well, well, well


. . . Haiku Theory Archives 2010

KOAN and Haiku (Part 01) .. 公案と俳句



anonymous said...

Eric Amann
The Wordless Poem: A Study of Zen in Haiku
(1969, reprinted 1978)

“Just as the Japanese ink-brush artist tosses a few light strokes in one corner of the picture and leaves all the rest in emptiness, so the haiku master puts down a few simple words and leaves the rest in silence. More is implied than stated, more hidden than apparent. A haiku is no more than a hint, a bare suggestion of a poem.”

“The whole purpose, therefore, of the technique of ‘wordlessness’ and ‘direct pointing’ as we find it in both Zen and haiku, is to avoid this confusion between words and realities and the consequent illusion of the separateness of things.”

“In summary, a haiku, in comparison with other poetry, is said to be ‘wordless’ inasmuch as the poet restricts himself to merely naming a few objects or sensations and allows the reader to respond to them directly. By avoiding subjective comment and unnecessary words he leaves the poem ‘open’ to the reader’s intuition….”

THF 11th Sailing

anonymous said...

Michael D.Welch in the THF BLOG :

And yes, of course “wordless” haiku exist.
The phrase, as used by Watts and Amann, is not literal (the way haiku is not literally a mirror either), but seeks to convey an idea.
I reiterate that I see “wordless” not to mean as brief as possible or necessary,
but for the words to be as natural and therefore “invisible” as possible — so that readers or hearers go as directly as possible to what the words refer to and the emotions they might produce.