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:
end of summer the rust on my scissors smells of marigolds Margaret Chula, The Wonder Code (2017)
Radhamani Sarma sees a lament on time’s passage:
Many thanks for Haiku Foundation blog for featuring Margaret Chula, whose haiku I am delighted to comment on this week. The beginning denotes a season, the first line beginning with “end of summer” after a long hot spell. We get to know more about what? “The end of summer,” giving us more space and a chance to ponder the intention of the speaker.
It could also be the beginning of autumn with the feeling of cold, fall impinging upon all the surroundings; “the rust on my scissors” implies the slow oxidization on the scissors. The third line “smells of marigolds” takes us into a vast vista of symbolic references. The many colors denoted by marigold, such as orange, yellow, or copper, add to the tempo of the poem and suggest the mood of the speaker.
The end of summer, entering autumn, and the slow rusting, all represented by the symbolic marigold flowers give us a sense of the persona weaving a tale of lost love, or a sweet memory of a girl saddened by the collocation of time’s tyranny.
Clayton Beach finds an evocation of the aesthetic “sabi”:
In its quiet evocation of the melancholy of early autumn and all the symbolism of aging into our twilight years that this entails, Margaret Chula’s haiku evokes the classic “sabi” aesthetic that has so captured the hearts of many generations of haiku poets. While the kanji used for the two words differ, the word “sabi” used for the haiku aesthetic is a homophone that also means “rust.” Sabi is characterized by the rustic, but also a detached, impersonal loneliness that revels in solitude and the silence of nature.
Here, the patina on the scissors underscores the sense of time’s passage without directly evoking the speaker’s emotions. Everything is said, but at one step removed. All that is left of summer is the rust on the blades that still smells strongly of marigolds — a sweet, spicy aroma — but we can infer by their absence, and the fact that the speaker has noticed the smell lingering in the rust, that the flowers themselves may be gone and that summer has finally ended.
A sensuous ku, the focus on the rust itself brings thoughts of age, decay and evanescence, capturing a feeling of resigned acceptance that we generally find in haiku about autumn, despite the presence of the words “summer” and “marigolds.” This subtle shift and playing with the liminal moment as summer imperceptibly shifts to fall, heightens the emotional shading of the haiku in a way that merely evoking autumn directly would not have accomplished. This saying without saying, the pointing to emotional content through naturalistic imagery is quintessential sabi, and hearkens to the quiet understatement of Basho.
You’ll find next weeks poem 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!
桃咲くやすぐに忘れる他人の死 peach blossoms open— how soon we forget the deaths of others —Kyōko Terada, Haiku Universe for the 21st Century (2008)