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
mosquito larvae in stagnant water on a sunshiny day — Taigi, A History of Haiku, Volume 1 (trans. R H Blyth)
Srinivasa Rao Sambangi conjectures on the poet’s foresightedness:
This haiku evokes deep emotions at different levels as we interpret. First, construction of haiku, a nice contrast between L2 and L3, stagnant water and a shiny day.
Taking a dig into various stages of life cycle of mosquito egg, larva, pupa and adult, the haiku captured here is about stage 2 (larva) and ready for stage 3 (pupa). Stage 3 is very critical in the life cycle. It requires temperature conditions to make the wings dry and develop into full fledged mosquito. Larva too requires the temperature conditions to molt itself into pupa. This requirement of temperature is provided in L3, a shiny day. A complete story is evolving here well complemented by L3.
But, how long and intense is the shine? If it is for a little time and mild it helps development else it will evaporate the dirty water and hence home for Larva/pupa even before it becomes an adult. Though higher temperature can not kill, lack of water can incapacitate larva/pupa. It can not fly and its only source of food (dirty water) is no more.
Perhaps the poet indicates something bigger here. We all know how dangerous mosquito bites are and how the diseases are spread. Does he indicate the prevailing terror groups lurking in different underground layers and wait to hit at world in large numbers? Political scenario in the world is mild enough giving them a brooding ground? Or he is optimistic that the changing political scenario is capable to tackle this menace and save the world? This open ended and unasked question in line 3 makes this haiku unique.
And Debbi Antebi develops this to include the human condition:
This haiku hints at the metamorphosis and four stages of development that mosquitoes undergo in their lifetime: with the arrival of spring, the mosquito eggs have already hatched into larvae. With time the larvae will grow, shed their skin and morph into pupae. The adult mosquitoes will then break out of the pupae case and become flying insects.
The adjective ‘stagnant’ in the second line hints at the stillness and silence before the beginning of life. As writer Isabel Allende has said, “Silence before being born, silence after death: life is nothing but noise between two unfathomable silences.” Indeed, the stagnant water will soon be filled with motion and buzzing with life.
The adjective ‘sunshiny’ in the third line is indicative of the start of spring. I think the word choice suggests a certain tentativeness — that it is not yet fully warm and sunny and that nature has not yet burst back into life. The alliteration of the ‘s’ sound in the poem brings to mind the sounds of the organisms about to emerge and come out in the open.
The stages of development for mosquitoes also hint at the metamorphosis that humans undergo in their lifetime. On a physical level, the flying land insects that we know mosquitoes to be have their beginnings as larvae in stagnant water. As larva lives at the surface of water and breathes through a tube, a fetus swims and moves around in the amniotic sac, with the umbilical cord attaching the placenta to the fetus. On a more metaphorical level, humans also shed their skin a few times and undergo many changes before they can become independent and free.
As this week’s winner, Debbi 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!
home after dark through the window my family of strangers — Dee Evetts, The Haiku Hundred (Iron Press, 1992)