Agata Jóźwiak

Agnieszka Żuławska-Umeda

On the ink trail of the old masters

These days I live in the Borecka Forest in a land known as Hunchback Masuria. The landscape is easy to describe – here, the sky meets the earth.

Between the sky and the earth, on every rung of the ladder that is the mountains – low here in Masuria, or high in my longed-for Tatras – just as in your ink drawings, Agata – here as well as there I am beckoned by silence, trails disappearing into nowhere, rolling meadows and the light on mountains and lakes.  

But, most of all – tenderness. Your gentle gaze deep into the landscape, your insight and your humility for the “gift” is reminiscent of how Matsuo Bashō painted with words: There are more islands than anyone could count. Some rise up steeply, as though thrusting towards the skies; some are flat, and seem to crawl on their stomachs into the waves. Some seem piled double, or even three layers high. To the left, they appear separate; to the right, joined together. Some look as if they carried others on their backs, and some as if they held them in their arms, like a parent caring for a little child or grandchild.[1]

According to Chinese, Korean and Japanese tradition, ink painting and the art of calligraphy are governed by similar principles. These principles, among which is also the increasingly soft voice of the master, are delicate, not authoritative yet still very understandable. They sound “correct,” as the poet Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn (857-915)[2] writes.      

In the Kaya Mountains

In a wild dash trundling hidden stones

And pushing up the peaks with a howl

Snatching our words and concealing meaning

Though you stand near

Heart aflutter I wait to hear the voices

the words so right in their sound

The old masters’ teachings – they flow with the stream

And vanish into the mountain clearing.


[1] From a description of the pine-covered islands of Matsushima in Matsuo Bashō’s travel journal The Narrow Road to the Deep North, 1689. https://minookatap.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-north.pdf [accessed: 20.06.2020]

[2] A poet from the era of the Silla Kingdom on the Korean peninsula. He was educated in Tang Dynasty China and upon returning to his homeland, he chose a life of wandering and then solitude in the Kaya Mountains. He became famous in China and Korea as a master of calligraphy, ink painting and Chinese poetry. Translated into Polish by AŻU and from the Polish into English by SW.

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