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
late flowering the last bee disappears down a bright funnel — Ian Turner, Blithe Spirit 23/4 (2013)
Lucy Whitehead disappears down the funnel:
This haiku took several readings to start to open up for me. The first thing I began to notice was just how vivid and intimate an image it conjured in my mind; the funnelled flower was like a macro photograph. Maybe it was the careful choice of the words ‘bright’ and ‘funnel’ to describe it, but I am right there watching the bee disappear into the flower and the rest of the world disappears too. So I thought it was a marvellous example of how haiku can really zoom in and involve the reader in painting a vivid picture with few words.
Going back to the start, I read ‘late flowering’ both in its literal sense and in the metaphorical sense of a person ‘flowering’ a little late. So the first line for me has two parallel readings: it could be talking about a flower/plant/garden or about a person. Either way, it sets the haiku in a particular time (late summer/early autumn) or part of the life cycle, and then zooms in to a close up of a particular place. It is located very specifically in time and place and achieves this very smoothly and simply.
This seasonal indicator is then reaffirmed by the phrase ‘the last bee.’ In fact, ‘last bee’ tightens the location in time even more. So at this point it creates an emotional response in me, a kind of ‘phew, just made it.’ Somehow nature is so perfectly designed, so perfectly timed, that even though the flower or plant is late to bloom (for whatever reason), the last bee catches it and does its thing. The needs of the two fit perfectly together and they fulfil each other’s destinies in that way. So I experience both a sense of urgency and a satisfying sense of completion with the image of the last bee pollinating one of the last flowers or plants.
In life, people can be flowering late for many reasons: long-term illness, a whole host of difficulties they have experienced, or just because it’s in their nature, they are a ‘late bloomer.’ The image of the last bee still being there to fulfil the flower’s reason for being suggests someone still finding fulfilment, despite ‘flowering’ later on. In that way it’s a very life affirming haiku, suggesting that nature provides, that nature has a bee for everyone. It is also the last bee who is lucky that there is still a flower around, and it suggests for every bee there is a flower.
It could suggest people meeting their partner later in life or even people having children a little later than normal. Obviously, there is a sexual/fertility dimension to the image of a bee disappearing into a funnel.
It is interesting that we only see the bee disappear. It makes the haiku occupy a very specific moment in time. We know the bee will reemerge, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that the bee reaches its destination. That the bee ‘disappears’ and allows our imagination to do the rest. There is plenty of ‘ma‘ in this haiku so it really engages the reader. Also, I have read many haiku about bees ‘entering’ flowers. The use of the word ‘disappears’ is rather wonderful: it is as though once the bee reaches its destination the flower and the bee become one.
I also thought the layout was rather clever as one reads ‘late flowering/the last bee disappears,’ so there is a moment of tension before we realise that the bee has disappeared down the ‘bright funnel’ and all is well. There is a lot of alliteration, assonance, and consonance here too. There is ‘late/last,’ ‘flowering/funnel,’ ‘bee/bright,’ ‘disappears/down,’ and also a repetition of ‘t’ sounds (late/last/bright) and ‘l’ sounds (late/flowering/last/funnel). There is also the repetition of the ‘ow’ sound in ‘flowering/down.’ All of this goes to make the haiku rather musical and satisfying; it is well-crafted and elegantly written. It also affects how we experience the poem; the word ‘bright’ is even more punchy because it repeats the ‘b’ of ‘bee’ in the line before, which is actually exactly above it. This may be why the flower is so vivid in my mind.
Finally, there is also a sadness to this haiku. Even though the flower and bee have come together despite all odds, we know that soon their time will be over. It is as though summer is still clinging on. For me, this feeling of transience heightens the sense of the vibrancy of life in its full which this haiku evokes. This is not just any bee or any flower in the middle of the season: it is the last bee and a late flowering. It is life doing its thing right up until the end.
It’s a very apt haiku for this time of year.
Petru Viljoen sees the light:
The bright funnel (to me) relates to the light tunnel that many people who had near-death experiences speak of. This haiku contains many endings: that of summer, that of the bee being extinguished by pesticide use and that of the flower whose late flowering must’ve happened well into autumn. Summer may come around again, for a while, but the disappearance of the bee will affect the natural cycles significantly and if the flower and foodstuff can’t be pollinated by the bees any longer, it may herald the end of life, or if not the end of life, a significant detrimental change to the nature of it.
As this week’s winner, Lucy 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!
梅雨深し本の表紙の草木染 deep in plum rain– the cover of the book tinted with herbs — Akito Arima, Einstein's Century: Akito Arima's Haiku (trans. Emiko Miyashita & Lee Gurga)