Japanese Poetry Patterns

Four Elements Renga

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Four Elements Renga

The Four Elements Renga: An Introduction and a Definition


In the fifth century BCE, Empedocles, a Greek philosopher, developed a theory that the universe was composed of four basic elements: fire, earth, air and water. The body, he theorized, was composed of four "humours" corresponding to each of the elements.

According to this theory, the nature of the universe was determined by two opposing forces, love and strife, which manipulated the elements. He believed the elements to be equal in importance and age; each possessed its own individuality and ruled its own province. The intermixture of these elements, he concluded, produced the different natures of all things.

Since today's renga community is worldwide, participants frequently find that traditional season words can be confusing. A word may signify spring in one part of the world and autumn in another, while being totally unknown or called by a different name in still others.

That situation gave rise to the idea of using the outmoded but fascinating ideas of Empedocles as the basis for a different kind of renga. It retains a strong emphasis on nature images but avoids the necessity of dealing with season words. Otherwise, it follows the basic guidelines of traditional renga.

With the foregoing as a foundation, a group of poets in the Renga internet forum attempted an 18-verse renga organized around the six key topics: earth, fire, water, air, strife and love. A later revised version contains 20 verses.

The parentheses after each verse identifies the writer and the type of verse required.


The Old Cathedral

A Four Elements Renga
Begun 12/30/1999 Completed 02/04/2000
Larry Gross, Lewis Sanders, Cindy Tebo, Sue Mill

young stonemason
slowly his work improves
the old cathedral ** (Larry Gross/earth)

Darkest before the dawn
even this Christmas Eve morning ** (Lewis Sanders/strife)

gregorian chant
the hum of steady rain
on stained glass ** (Cindy Tebo/water)

New Year's Day-
burning the old calendar ** (Sue Mill/fire)

December twilight--
just beyond tall pine trees
shadows and romance ** (ls/love)

the air heavy
with wine and roses ** (ct/air)

escaping
a child's grimy fist
silver helium balloon ** (sm/free choice)

January night storm
one leaf in the puddle ** (ls/water)

a whiff of green
the moon shining
on wet grass ** (ct/air [moon])

second-hand clothes-
camphor and lavender ** (sm/free choice)

the fire gone out-
across the field
barking dogs... ** (ls/fire)

in the meadow
a dung beetle moving dirt ** (ct/earth)

mass graves--
each side
blaming the other ** (sm/strife)

sweet honeysuckle
growing over the headstones ** (ct/air)

the finish line
her face flushed
with victory ** (lg/fire)

first kiss-
they both giggle and blush ** (sm/love)

in the wash,
she finds ruby lipstick
on his collar ** (ct/water)

a trusty yoke of oxen
pulling the plow ** (lg/earth)

Created 031128
Updated 060211