Excerpt for Tides of Amber by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Marian C. Ghilea

Copyright © 2019 by Marian C. Ghilea

Cover art & design by Marian C. Ghilea

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the copyright holder except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Published by Marian C. Ghilea at Smashwords

to Akiko

and to all the people who love poetry and nature

Painting with Words

A long time ago, an emperor from China wanted to put on display in his palace the most beautiful painting in the world. He asked the best weaver-masters from the country to produce the finest sheet of silk and mount it into a frame. Then, after a long and rigorous selection, a young painter was chosen to create the masterpiece.

The painter apologized, saying he wasn’t ready for the assignment at the moment and asked for some time to prepare. He left the imperial court and spent all the time at his home. Months passed by. Finally, after a lot of insistence from the emperor, the artist returned to the palace and only drew two vertical lines on the silk fabric: one white and one blue.

Angered by the painter’s perceived insolence, the emperor threw him into prison. However, some hours later, when passing through the hall after nightfall, he was surprised to find out that the two lines had transformed into a lively pair of dragons. One was white, the other was blue, and they were fighting against each other in the silvery light of the freshly risen full Moon. Amazed by the artist’s skill, the emperor freed him from jail and rewarded him generously for the masterpiece.

This is an old Chinese fairy tale that beautifully describes the power of art and the magic of minimalism as a form of artistic expression. Perhaps I will retell it in detail someday, in one of my future books. I don’t know if any artwork from ancient China that has survived to our times fits the description of the two dragons. However, there is such a painting in real life, similar to that described in the tale. It is one of the several watercolors from a set named “Boats at Sea” by the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). The date of its completion is uncertain, but the work is estimated by experts from Tate Gallery, United Kingdom, to be from around 1830-1845. It consists of two vertical brush-marks on a yellow-gray background. One mark is red, the other is black. The readers interested in it can find the artwork with a simple online search.

In modern times, beautiful examples of minimalism can be found in some of the sketches drawn by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), as well as in the sculptures of Constantin Brâncuși (1876-1957). Of course, many other artists have created works in this genre, but listing them here is beyond the purpose of this book.

So, why is minimalism so fascinating? In the world of manifestations, if we try to decompose objects or living organisms into smaller parts, we end up at the level of elementary particles. At the tiniest scale, everything is composed of a few simple fundamental categories of elements. These include “matter” and “antimatter” particles that define the substance of our Universe, i.e. fermions (quarks, leptons, antiquarks, and antileptons), and “force” particles, that are responsible for the interaction between the fermions and are represented by the fundamental bosons (gauge bosons and the Higgs boson). From them, one can build an entire Universe, with an almost infinite variety and complexity.

If we further expand our analogy, what would these elementary particles be in the universe of art? When does a line become more than a line? When does a stone become more than a stone? And what about literature and poetry? How long has to be a written text to become alive, to transform into more than a group of words? There is no unique answer to this question, but we have many types of short prose and poems that try to paint or sculpt a whole story from as few items as possible. Among them, one of the best genres representing minimalism in poetry is the haiku.

Born in Japan as part of longer poems and developed into an independent form of art by Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) and Ueshima Onitsura (1661–1738), the haiku was traditionally a verse form of only 17 morae that included an overlapping of two different images and a cutting word - kireji. A seasonal reference (kigo) was also present. The morae could be in most cases translated in English as 17 syllables, although the double vowels, double consonants, and the „n” at the end of the words are considered as separate morae in Japanese.

In time, the haiku became one of the most expressive forms of poetry, synthesizing nature’s beauty and the universe of human emotions. Here, the past and the future are discarded, and everything is alive in the present moment. Nowadays, the haiku has acquired more flexibility, being less strict about metric or structure.

Reflecting this spirit of minimalism, “Tides of Amber” has gathered images and emotions that I have put in verses over the years. This book is not a simple collection of random poems. Instead, it is an invitation to a journey, a journey that attempts to enclose the spirit of a full year into one hundred and eight short haiku poems spread over as many pages. Although I was tempted at some point to make this volume bilingual or even multilingual, I have decided in the end to keep only the English version of the poems in this edition.

Why 108 poems? In Buddhism, this is a sacred number. It is attained by multiplying the number of senses with all their possible types of interactions. In the Buddhist view, there are six senses: consciousness, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The things around us can be perceived as pleasant, neutral, or painful. Their source can be external or internal. The interaction with them can take place in the past, present, or future. In consequence, we have 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108 combinations that describe our interaction with the Universe and sets our place in it.

As Buddhism had a powerful influence on the way society evolved in Eastern Asia, also shaping the history of Japan, where haiku as a poetic genre appeared, I have attempted here to describe this flow of a full year in 108 such short poems. The 108 poems were divided into four seasons, each with 27 haiku. Each poem was set to occupy a single page, the empty space surrounding it giving the reader an opportunity to contemplate its message for a while before moving to the next. The low number of words in this book can be deceiving, as the high concentration of ideas is more than making up for the text’s brevity.

To reach a remote destination, one may travel in many ways. Traveling can be done by airplane, car, train, ship, bicycle, or by other means. Or one could just walk the whole distance all the way to the goal. While a choice or another can decide how long a trip takes, it also affects our exposure to it. We can see mountains and cities from a plane, but we won’t be able to listen to the birds chirping, smell the flowers, or talk to the people we pass by. In the same manner, one could quickly skim through this book, or one could slowly read the poems one by one and let his own imagination expand from the verses, the way the two painted lines became dragons in the Chinese fairy-tale.

Following the traditional Japanese style, I have decided to maintain the 5-7-5 metric for all the haiku, inserting in most cases in the text the season element kigo and a juxtaposition of two independent planes that interact with each other. I haven’t used a traditional list for the kigo elements, but have attempted instead to fill the verses with those that seemed most appropriate to me. Some of the poems aren’t necessarily valid for only one season. In these cases, I have placed them in the locations I thought most appropriate, so they might better express the journey.

All the poems were written with lower-case letters, avoiding periods, colons, or semicolons. However, commas were still used when needed to maintain the clarity of the text. I believe this style better represents the spirit of the haiku and their original form. It is closer to Japanese writing, where upper/lower cases don’t exist, and where colons and semicolons were not traditionally used. Also, although classical haiku has many rigors related to style, kigo, avoidance of metaphors, or structure, I took in some places the liberty of not being constrained by them, letting the poems naturally flow in a direction that would fill them with more emotional content. Some of the locations described in the verses would best fit Japan while others could belong to areas outside it, ranging from the polar circles to the tropics.

Most of my haiku are depicting scenes from nature blended with thoughts and emotions related to them. With the continuous increase of the human population on our planet and the ever-expanding urbanization of our society, the contemplation of nature might have already become a luxury for some of us. Of course, all the cities have parks, but parks are not exactly “nature”.

Perhaps it will be up to each human being and up to the future generations to decide how much space nature still occupies in our hearts and around our homes. Haiku and other similar genres of poetry will continue to flourish, or they will die, depending on how the evolution of our civilization changes our souls.

So, if you feel ready for it, let’s begin our exploration.


ancestral plains

slowly waking up at dawn -

a nascent journey

landing flocks of geese -

bones protruding through thick moss

in the fading snow

with the eyes half-closed,

pretending to be dreaming -

a crane in the mist

foamy brook murmurs

caressing a path of stones -

the water’s story

colorful singing -

tense snows of April melting

away in the Sun

fragrances of spring -

fast streams wash in the valleys

the mountain’s shadow

cliff in the distance -

dark brook mirroring the clouds

and a rusty sword

foggy meteors

crossing gloomy skies above -

sparkles and wishes

long foamy branches -

cherry trees numbing the sky

over the small pond

enchanted forest -

a blooming lotus floating

in the nascent dawn

fawns on a meadow -

flower armies in the wind

sway in unison

tender willow buds

touching the lake scenery -

an old friend waving

pathway under clouds -

mushroom cities expanding

over beds of moss

lilac at window -

my hands are brushing old books

and an hourglass

melodious morning -

among white cherry petals,

a singing cricket

the silvery sea -

trembling lights marking the coast

in the green distance

cherry trees in bloom -

bee wings are touching petals

in peaceful humming

dancing in the rain -

fresh scents of blooming flowers

fill the air with dreams

capricious winds -

a long branch swinging above

swirls of white petals

gray clouds ascending -

ripples bending blades of grass,

stirring the shadows

branches expanding

above carpets of green moss -

transitory dreams

calls of nightingales -

the meadow’s grass is rustling

in drought of whispers

overcast morning -

above dark-blue waters shines

a new sea of green

spring in the darkness -

glittering stars are pouring

into the dark sea

stroll through the forest -

shades of green in slow streaming

along wet branches

far-away mountains

stolen again by white clouds -

my smile and a book

dusk over river -

wavy shadows touch the rocks

sinking in darkness


moon over forest -

stirring murmurs from a cliff

herald a new dawn

rhythmic dance of rain -

the forest leaves are drumming

an evergreen call

spiraling eagles -

feathers and clouds are spinning

in windy rustles

floating jellyfish -

old superstitions rising

beyond melting dreams

clouds above the sea

fading into heavy rain -

wet calligraphy

tall towers of clouds -

thunderbolts are spearing through

transient mountains

fuzzy spears of light

over distant foamy bluffs -

another sunset

turbulent distance -

the scorching drought is stirring

withered pine shadows

dancing in the woods -

the rain, writing on the leaves

an untold story

fading city lights -

silent monks immersed in thoughts

behind the closed gates

rainy forest eve -

dark clouds hide the horizon

from my tired gaze

convex reflexions

shaken by a gentle breeze -

waves in drops of dew

lying on the moss -

whispers from a waterfall

travel to the stars

forest at midnight -

dreams and foxes wandering

under fringed shadows

old monastery -

a willow gently bending

over red mushrooms

broken window frame -

split by distant lightning bolts,

a square sky of glass

cats hiding from rain -

water stripes are pouring from

long vibrating eaves

dog days of summer -

heavy dreams are melting down,

waiting for the night

glorious sunset -

shiny armors reflecting

a dying battle

bridges over brooks -

a quiet garden waiting

there to steal my heart

a fuzzy rainbow

enticing dreams of travel -

evening solitude

magic liquid green

washing the eroded cliffs -

songs in fishing boats

the old pine forest -

a fawn running, lost in time

over rocks and grass

wavelets over ponds -

golden fish in lazy swim

among birds and clouds

where am I going?

I shall let the path guide me

through the green twilight

rainy afternoon -

my dreams are sinking into

blue drops of water

journey in twilight -

tired feet sliding on lanes

guarded by lamp posts


new rainy season -

monkeys sleeping on branches

shaken by the wind

colorful rainbow

pigmenting the fading green -

dreams of solitude

rain clouds descending -

singing louder near the pond,

a few old crickets

first rain of autumn -

I feel like a butterfly,

lost inside my dreams

shimmering rapids -

salmons climbing earnestly

on a liquid slope

vibrating echoes -

dead leaves floating on a pond

under the blue sky

ethereal rain -

a dark silence expanding

under hidden stars

yellow armored trees

towering above a brook -

refuge for my dreams

rain of leaves at night -

behind the golden shoji

a cat is sleeping

geese in flight at dusk -

a pale lizard lays asleep

on a heap of stones

a small cup of tea -

tasting among fallen leaves

the clear autumn rain

foamy creek in fall -

pale colors jump gracefully

from the white water

dark morning on steppes -

metallic petals sleeping

under crystal rime

city waterfall -

two fawns grazing on the bank

among skyscrapers

fog in the mountains -

the dissolving thoughts have ceased

to look for a path

ballet in the rain -

the falling leaves are drawing

circles on the pond

shogi games at dusk -

yellow leaves are reeled by wind

among grey shadows

barren precipice -

the silver Moon is resting

in a nest of clouds

whispering drizzle -

trembling ponds are mirroring

the shrinking daylight

rain echoes from eaves

pouring above temple walls -

dreams in cups of tea

decrepit houses -

the crescent Moon is hiding

a cat’s lonely dream

crickets under stars -

two girls playing, placing stones

on the old go board

a fruit falling down -

kisses of dead leaves waiting

on the ground below

flipping spots of light -

coloring barren branches,

a few squirrel tails

fishpond under Moon -

herons walking around it,

hunger and beauty

shrine in the distance -

a quiet Sun is warming

tired wings and stones

a withering path

under blankets of dry leaves -

advent of winter


turbulent chaos -

the wind is spreading colors

over frozen ponds

a distant mountain

floating beyond frost and fog -

quiet loneliness

trekking in silence -

the wan Sun is flickering

above white ridges

ephemeral visions -

northern lights in pale dancing

under the cold stars

delicate flowers

scattered on the frigid glass -

daces and laughter

village on a cliff -

withered shadows are spreading

a serene sadness

transparent city -

engulfing the fields of stars,

lights among branches

frosty bank at dawn -

delicate crystals glistening

on tattered armors

cloudless sky at dusk -

birds and thoughts are wandering,

reflected in snow

entrancing evening -

chilling winds stirring branches

in dying twilight

gloomy clouds at noon

descending over ridges -

mirrors of my heart

lichens under snow

trembling in frigid hollows -

a grazing reindeer

an outbound vessel -

braving the harsh arctic winds

and the Sun’s absence

nascent adventure -

forests flowing through the dusk

in icy blizzard

tumultuous visions -

shore lights dancing in darkness

over the clear ice

alabaster snow -

my shadow, leaving deep prints

in the pale moonlight

frozen winter days -

a cherry-tree is sleeping

covered by thick snow

yet another year

with new hopes and silent dreams -

I stay just the same

sparrows on a stage -

pouring from the rooms behind,

a stream of Noh chants

birds in slow gliding

over tall castle towers -

memories of green

glacier in the night -

petrified, inside the ice,

many shooting stars

temple on the shore -

the waves are sending whispers

to the stone garden

lonely traveler -

footprints are slowly fading

in the icy mist

walls darkened by time

next to the silent alley -

a history page

surrounded by fog -

a few numb birds are resting

among my lost thoughts

vibrant sound of steps

echoing over a bridge -

lonely journey dreams

the concrete jungle -

a flock of shriveling crows

and my freezing feet


It took me a considerable amount of time and work until the text from this book looked satisfactory. I didn’t feel alone on my journey, as there were friends who helped and encouraged me along the way.

I am deeply grateful for tips and ideas to Akiko Ishida, Dorina Costea, Lili Florea, Marcela Angela, Denisa Tudor, Marița Enache-Pommer, Laura Țencaliuc, Alexandra Cristea (Ally Andra), Petronela Țuțuianu, Gabriela Marciuc, Codrina Cozma, Matei Hutopilă, Cristian Stelea, Victor Motrescu, and Margareta Ursachi. With their tips and suggestions, the quality of the poems from this book has significantly improved.

My warmest thanks to everyone else who has helped me indirectly and whom I might have omitted to mention here explicitly.

A note about the cover: I have used here an image under CC0 license from Although the CC0 license does not require attribution, I thought it fair to give credit to the user qimono for the photo.

About the author

Marian Constantin Ghilea is a physicist (PhD. from University of Rochester), with research work in the fields of nuclear fusion, computational physics, particle physics, and exoplanets. Besides science and literature, he is also actively involved in martial arts, music, and the study of cultures and languages from around the world.


Butterfly’s Dream (2018) - a scifi novel about the meaning of reality, individuality, and love;

Tides of Amber (2019) - the spirit of a full year enclosed into one hundred and eight short haiku poems.

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