Staff and Pupils at Sendai, Bernards school
An Introduction to Bernard's book 'Flowers of Stone' by Zen Master Tekkan Matsumoto
Seraphin J Sigrist, a bishop and most distinguished orientalist in New York, who wrote the forward to Durrant's 'From the Butterfly's Wing' book of poetry, published in Japan ten years ago to excellent reviews, referred to the distinct note of sadness throughout the collection.
Yet reading in manuscript form Durrant's latest offering 'Flowers of Stone', written I feel with much restraint and precision, I am not aware of any sense of sorrow over the human condition. On the contrary, he reveals an affinity with the spiritual landscapes of Zen Buddhism; there is a rhythmic flow in his lines, the gentle flowing movement which is found in all Japanese art: archery, flower arrangement, scroll writing and the tea ceremony.
Instinctively, Durrant stays close to the roots of Nature. Was it not our dear Basho, our seventeenth century haiku poet, who made the important statement: "Learn about a pine from a pine and about about a bamboo from a bamboo." Durrant uses the same cool objective framework, puts silence and solitude to the forefront, as for example:
Let flowers die gracefully like old letters on a drawer
Not all the poems here are related to matters Japanese, but the work as a whole is pre-eminently mystical. The physical world in Durrants consciousness stops short at at a certain critical point, as if to make way for a more profound, more eternal spirit of harmony; thus to unify rather than attack our troubled, divided existence on earth.
There is, too, the connecting link between Durrant the poet and the same man who painted exquisitely delicate scenes, in the sumi-e style, of rural life along the Kamogawa river that flows through my home town of Kyoto. The self-awakening art moves naturally from canvas to written word, and back again against a background where ethics and religion seldom talk the same language.
Perhaps I should mention that I first met Durrant back in the 1970s. He was on sabatical leave from his college in the mountainous region of Tohoku, in the far north. I was curious about this shy Englishman with gentle manners, who had aleready worked for many years in my country and spoke the language well, using prefixes in their polite sense. Our professional paths continued to cross over the seasons. We exchanged poems in the time-honoured fashion, mostly in tanka form -the thirty-one syllables set out in the 5-7-5-7-7 pattern -which had been the official form of poetry in Japan for a thousand years. That Durrant was greatly influenced by the rigid formalism of ancient tanka styles is beyond doubt.
Then, in the late 1980's, when it seemed that he had settled down for good in his cloistered corner of Tohoku, a respected Sensei, contributor to some of Japan's leading literary journals, also holding small exhibitions of his paintings, he was suddenly struck down by a mysterious illness related to the spine.
He spent many months in hospital, in the prefectural city of Sendai. I visited him there, and was permitted to learn from the doctors that his lecturing days were over. When at last he recovered enough to walk unaided, he returned to Europe.
Once, in a letter from England he wrote: "In that rustic sanctuary of Japan I tried to sit calmly each day, if only for a few minutes of Zen time, to keep out things save the blessed presence of silence from the Creative Source. Like water, our spirit finds its own level of tranquility if left to itself in peace."
At the end of this book is a condenced version of an Interview which I helped to arrange between Durrant and the international cultural journal 'THE FIRST HOUR', produced in the United States. It reveals much of the man behind the poems, a man perhaps caught in a timewarp not of his choosing, having been born far to soon or a thousand years too late.
In conclusion, I acknowledge my gratitude to Hannah Abrahams, an American post graduate student here in Tokyo, who struggled to interpret and convert my Japlish into civilised English for the benefit of Western readers.
Tekkan Matsumoto, Zen Master. Nara-Kyoto Autumn 1996
young bernard
Bernard nineteen years old
Bernard in 1945 having been released as a political prisoner.
Bernard a year before he died
A letter from a fourteen year old girl: