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
how to dress her for eternity — blossom rain Carolyn Hall, The Heron’s Nest XIII:1 (2011)
Scott Mason has us imagine:
Try this little thought experiment: (1) cover the second and third lines; (2) feign amnesia; and (3) imagine where the first line will lead. More likely than not, you’ll think of a baptism, baby portrait, first day of kindergarten, or some other early life stage event. But while we innocently conjure such moments, the poet slips us “eternity.”
Yet one more surprise awaits us. In the poem’s third line we actually retrieve time — but to little avail: it only magnifies the pathos of permanent separation from a loved one.
This haiku by Carolyn Hall is stunning, in every sense.
And Peter Newton acclaims its accomplishment:
What a raw and beautiful way to look at life . . . and death. It is exactly a poem like this that keeps me inspired to write the perfect haiku. One that has the emotional impact of a Russian novel artfully designed in eight words and a dash.
While Garry Eaton summons a familiar classic for comparison:
It seems remarkable how many haiku showing up in this feature contain strong echoes of American classics. This one reminds me a great deal of a longer poem from Emily Dickinson, which I quote for those who may not know it.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
I quote it in full out of the conviction that knowledge of the Dickinson will add to rather than detract from the enjoyment of the Hall haiku. We all write as parts of continuing traditions upon which we can draw. But we do so most meaningfully if we know what that tradition is and are able to echo and elaborate upon it, as Hall does so well here when she evokes the Dickinson with her use of the word ‘eternity’ and adds an element from the classic Japanese tradition, the cherry blossoms, symbolic of dead youth, to this essentially transcendental theme.
And a late submission from Mojde Marvast:
In my religion burial preparations are very different but this haiku made me think about a decision that will accompany a dear one throughout the journey! As if we are responsible till the end!
I also reminds me of a poem by Raymond Carver, “Another Mystery”.
As this week’s winner, Gary 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!
hymns in the ears of corn Robert Boldman, Walking with the River, High/Coo Press (1980)