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
after all these years ankle deep in the other ocean — Pamela Miller Ness, Frogpond 21.2 (1998)
Marion Clarke puts herself in the poet’s “feet”:
At first, there was a sense of regret in this haiku, that the narrator had perhaps left her homeland never to return as line one can almost be heard with a sigh. But the next two lines made me think that this was due to free choice . . . that the narrator could have stayed in ‘this’ ocean or left for the ‘other’ one and ‘ankle deep’ suggests paddling, which is a pleasurable pastime. So it seems to be more of a contented observation than a sad one.
And David Jacobs finds two oceans as well:
Time, space and distance interweave with one another as the haiku reaches its almost casual but stunning final line. In my first reading I paused slightly between line one and two, in my second, I eliminated the pause and replaced it after “ankle deep” ie “after all these years” (of being) “ankle deep”. One of the best uses of a pivot line I have seen, not least because it is shorter and more stark than the more traditional longer second. The poet has moved from being “ankle deep” to being “ankle deep” in another place altogether.
You can feel time gently lapping around her ankles in perfect harmony with the gentleness of the haiku itself as the language to wash around us.
Steve Smolak broadens it to include us all:
Pamela’s haiku is wonderful, and filled with anticipation line to line; the irony grows as well. We have all heard Line 1 countless times, and know when we hear it the story can go either way: will there be resolution, or resignation? Line 2 poignantly suggests the latter. There is also a sense of irony that after many years so little has occurred, even if we are prepared for it. It is stark even, and compels us to know, ankle deep in what? Line 3 delivers haiku brilliance — not only does the irony deepen, but we encounter an outright metaphor so highly effective, I believe, because it touches on a very real aspect of our lives! We are existentialists, everyone, no matter how deep our investigations go into our lives . . . maybe the poet is reflecting with a new outlook on life, and sees how half-hearted she was living what has came before? Maybe she, her companion, or both, have lived on the surface of each one’s existence and realize they know very little about each other? The poem is intrinsically spiritual, wonderful, and harks of the greatness in which we all know is our true selves! T.S. Eliot comes to mind — “. . . and at the end of all our exploring, is to arrive at where we began, and know the place for the first time”.
While Nathan Sidney ties it all together:
A simple image with profound implications, not structured like a traditional haiku, taking the form of long/short/long, but very much in keeping with the haiku aesthetic with its use of understatement, mystery, loneliness and transience. I’m put in mind of a great journey, perhaps crossing from one side of a continent to the other, a journey long awaited, but put off due to the busyness of a life, the commitments, distractions and fears. But perhaps the ocean is not a physical one but a spiritual one, the great other shore lying in wait across the gulf, faintly glimpsed from the shores of a life entering its twilight years. There’s a sense of regret from the opening line but we move from there to a sense of vast openness. The poet may only be ankle deep, but it would take but a brief effort to be fully submerged. Will our poet hesitate here or plunge in? In the literal sense there is the promise of joy as our poet dives in under the waves or simply wiggles their feet in the sand, enjoying the feeling of completion. In the spiritual sense we know that perhaps the journey has only begun. These two journeys, the inner and the outer, merge into one and we get a glimpse of the sacredness of the ordinary.
As this week’s winner, Nathan gets to select the next 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!
winter night the everything of a flame — Sandi Pray, The Heron’s Nest XVIII:2 (2016)