The Riddle from Wobbly Rock


Lew Welch wrote a poem called Wobbly Rock, about a large rock on the California coast that moves when hit by waves; He used to sit on it to meditate.

In the poem he poses the following riddle:

Dychymig Dychymig:
(Riddle Me a Riddle)

Waves and the sea.
If you take away the sea -
Tell me what it is

It took me fourteen years to solve this riddle -- or only a moment.

The answer is:
If you take away "the sea" from Waves and the sea, you get Waves and,
which, to the ear, is the same as waves sand.

So the solution is something anyone who has seen a sandy ocean beach has seen:
the pattern of ripples left by the ebbing tide on the drying sand ~ the waves without the sea.

The stationary wave-pattern is tathata, 'Suchness'; the absent sea is shunyata, 'Void'.

These are the Buddhist terms which correspond -- roughly -- to the Aristotelian concepts of Essence (what something is) and Being (that something is -- since whatever is without being anything is, in Buddhist language, "void of self-nature"). To take away the sea is to take away Being and leave only Essence, which now appears, on a higher level, united not to the changing Being of the sea, but to the stationary Being of the sand. The world is transfigured ~ crystallized.

To separate Being and Essence like this, so as to reunite them on a higher level, is what all true art does, to break us free from our stale habits of perception.

As Lew says, in "For Joseph Kepecs,"

The poem is not the heart's cry/
(Though it seems to be if you have craft enough)
/ The poem is made to carry the heart's cry.


© 2002 Charles Upton
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