Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
virgin snow a fox makes prints for the morning — Alan Summers, Icebox, Hailstone Haiku Circle Japan (2010)
Our commentators took several angles on this beautiful winter poem. Marion Clarke focused on a technical nicety by the poet:
The word ‘for’ is what makes this ku special, as it is so unexpected. It is easy to imagine the red fox against the white landscape leaving little tracks, but seeing these footprints as a present for the new day is such a lovely observation.
Mary Weiler found its incipient humor and a bit of whimsy:
I see Alan showing total respect and admiration for this crafty creature — very Issa-ish! I’m guessing it is a red fox, displaying its ultimate resourcefulness, intelligence and cunning. There is a hunt in the morning, so that night he begins making a complex puzzle of prints in the new snow to confuse and befuddle the silly hounds. He will watch the fiasco from his den, chuckling to his smart and beautiful self. I laughed out loud with this poem!
Or, perhaps Reynard isn’t a country fox at all but a civilized suburban fellow surviving well in a community. He possibly detected a footpath dangerous to moms and small children, too close to traffic. So, under cover of night, with the help of new snow, tracked a safe detour which was willingly followed by pedestrians the next morning. Clever boy!
And Oonah Joslin responded to the visual immediacy of the images:
Who doesn’t want to leave footprints in fresh snowfall? But of course the fox beats us to it every time and in this haiku one feels stillness all around and that the morning sun will be the first the see those prints left by a red fox on white snow in the dark. It’s pure magic!
But Jan Benson takes an entirely different tack, teasing a metaphoric reading from it, and even wondering if it might evoke the mythic:
I was puzzled on the first read of this haiku.
Upon the second reading, it became clear that the new fallen snow dropped during the night, since the fox was leaving a message (prints) to be deciphered in the morning.
But perhaps this haiku is alluding to our human nature to put first footprints into new snow; to be known for our imprinting upon earth and satisfying our need to have made a recognizable mark.
I think the stronger metaphor is of the wedding night, and the ancient ritual of proving the virginity of the bride prior to marriage-bed coitus. The proof of virginity (and consummation of the marriage), is revealed in the traces (prints) of blood on the bedsheets, shown to the family elders the morning after.
As this week’s winner, Jan gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
impending buds yellow with caution we cross the border — Scott Wiggerman, Chrysanthemum 17 (2015)