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
all day long i feel its weight the unworn necklace — Roberta Beary, Pocket Change, Red Moon Press (2000)
Bob Aspey reveals the handmaid’s tale:
Pearls are most lustrous when warmed to body heat they say. Victorian and Edwardian ladies would have their maids wear their pearl necklaces during the day so that they had the opportunity to shimmer and shine at their best when they were at dinner or a ball. Beary’s poem prompted recollection of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Warming Her Pearls” in which we eavesdrop on the musings of a maid about her mistress as she wears her necklace. As the poem progresses it becomes clear that her feelings run deep. The poem concludes:
“(. . .) And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.”
In its three short lines Beary’s poem captures the same longing and desire for an unattainable and unrequited love, and the sense of loss and separation of the maid on those days when she does not wear the necklace for her mistress. Even its absence bears a weight.
Hansha Teki feels the weight of a Biblical millstone:
Each time that I read this poem, I visualise the poet in a courtroom sitting through a tedious divorce procedure “all day long.” The next two lines suggest a number of possible meanings that serve to enrich the power of the poem, the ambiguity evoking the conflicting emotions of the speaker. Does “the unworn necklace” represent a token attempt by the other at pursuing reconciliation? Should she accept the gift or shouldn’t she? The weight of it is not just in the decision to be made but is also suggestive of the possibility of being weighed down again by a marriage that has lost its flavour.
The weight of the unworn necklace further suggests a Biblical millstone hung around one’s neck. Millstones were turned by asses so that the weight of one would grind wheat into flour against the other. Jesus had suggested in Matthew 18:6 that for whosoever should offend against a child’s simple faith, it would be better that such a millstone be hung around the neck so that the offender would be swallowed up in the abyss of the sea. Every parent in a divorce proceeding must surely be aware of the possible affect on any children born of the marriage (perhaps itself now a millstone) and weighs that up as the case proceeds to its final resolution.
Roberta Beary has evoked the conflicting emotions of release and of guilt consequent to such a milestone event with unflinching courage.
Ajaya Mahala is reminded of Archimedes:
The place for a necklace is a neck.
As we never feel the physical weight of our head, the physical weight of a necklace is also not felt. The metaphysical dimensions are more profound than the physical, and Roberta’s haiku, while misleading the naive readers to the physical weight of a necklace, lends another meaning to the haiku for more intellectual interpretations.
A necklace, when worn, adds to the beauty of a woman and its weight is forgotten in the ecstasy. But when love dries up and there is a break-up in the relationship, the buoyancy—Archimedes comes to my mind—offered by love is lost, and the weight of the necklace remains. All of a sudden, a thing of beauty and grace becomes a thing of burden!
Then why to carry the weight throughout the day? The answer probably is this. A valuable thing like a necklace cannot be thrown away easily, for the simple reason of a sweet relationship turning sour within minutes. As relationships take a long time to build up, they cannot be rejected outright. A lot of pondering is involved before the ultimate course is taken. The necklace, standing as a symbol of a broken relationship, has to be carried for quite some time with some sense of burden.
But it cannot continue for days, weeks, months or years. If incompatibility continues, a new equilibrium of human relationship shall come into play, which shall shed all kinds of burden.
As this week’s winner, Bob 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!
spring cleaning I throw away dreams that almost came true — Angela Terry, Frogpond 34:3 (2011)