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
Votive lamp's flicker distracts his eyes from the stars —Gerald (Jerry) Wild, from “THE HAIKU CHALLENGE AT TWILIGHT TO JAZZ” (2018)
Am not sure it’s kosher to write a commentary on a haiku I myself submitted. But I’ve never before pondered the reason why Jerry Wild’s two-liner is a favorite of mine.
Doing that now, I muse that a “votive lamp’s flicker,” though it has something inherently spiritual about it, is tied to the earth. Stars, on the other hand, are tied to the heavens.
It’s noteworthy that what “distracts his eyes” (windows of the soul) is close at hand, even ordinary. And just that, I think, offers an important clue. For though the votive lamp admittedly lacks the stature of a star, it’s attraction bears out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire…”
It’s the same message William Blake gives when he urges us to allow ourselves to be attracted (“distracted”) by what’s down-to-earth and
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of (our) hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
Radhamani Sarma—as above, so below:
Delighted to view and comment upon the haiku by Jerry Wild, whose haiku speaks from the point of view of a devotee’s prayer. We can imagine the ritual and the speaker, looking above, wondering at the resplendent stars, pervasive in the Sky; trying to count the innumerable galaxies, or wondering how distant the sky is from this muddy earth; or if it’s possible to reach those souls dead and gone, away from us now, residing in the cool safe haven of heaven’s portal. The devotee’s eyes catch the glimpse of a sudden flicker close by, the glow growing bigger. The common thread is the shine emanating from the stars and the lamp.
Again this haiku admirably works on a contrast: the ephemeral nature of the flickering lamp/the twinkling glow of stars; and the distinct contrast in place: near/far away.
The devotee might be drawn by a philosophy or awareness that he or she is also going to be one among the stars soon, to merge with the already merged.
As this week’s winner, Christina 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!
gods and men love maps they draw borders with pens that split lives like an axe. —John Paul Lederach. (From a transcript of the 'On Being' Gathering 2018.)