I drew diagrams of heavenly spheres in my notebook as I sat in the back of my astronomy class, thinking myself a genius all the while. I loved to use graph paper, because graph paper is sophisticated. Geniuses use graph paper; everybody knows that. I drew arrows and symbols to mark the rotation of the stars’ axes or the paths of the planets through the firmament. I had grandiose ideas about the structure of the universe. But it was all meaningless. I am not a genius, and I never was. I was a fool. And a fool I will remain.
The arab astronomers who lived thousands of years ago were the true geniuses. There were no math books sitting ready for them in the library; they invented the math themselves. There was no Acme Corporation to call for a ready-made experiment kit. No, they made their own devices. And those astronomers with nothing given to them but their minds were able to chart the lights of the night sky. Would you look up to the heavens and ask Why if it were You that was thrown into the desert? They were no fools. They didn’t even use graph paper.
One day I wrote her name upon the strand, But came the waves and washéd it away: Agayne I wrote it with a second hand, But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray. "Vayne man," sayd she, "that doest in vaine assay, A mortall thing so to immortalize, For I my selve shall lyke to this decay, And eek my name bee wypéd out lykewize." "Not so," quod I, "let baser things devize, To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame: My verse your vertues rare shall eternize, And in the hevens wryte your glorious name. Where whenas death shall all the world subdew, Our love shall live, and later life renew."
I we still spelled words like this. Half the reason I love this poem so much is phrases like "and eek my name bee wypéd out lykewize" and "'Vayne man,' sayd she, 'that doest in vaine assay.'" They sound infinitely cooler than they would in modern English.
The Japanese painted just as they wrote; with words. They used lines, and absence, too. Much more can be shown through nothing than something if you let the imagination complete the picture. The splash of the haiku reverberates through the mind’s eye as if it were the deepest of wells. And it is. A watercolor in the old style does the same; if you could raise a mountain with one stroke, why would you ever use a hundred? And thus the icon is the key, the idea. No art can exist outside of us, and inside is where it’s born.