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
mountain wind the stillness of a lamb gathering crows – Matt Morden, Stumbles in Clover, Snapshot Press (2007)
Jacob Salzer explores philosophical undertones:
This haiku reminds me to not stick out like a sore thumb if I can avoid it! There is ironic humor in the lamb incidentally serving as a kind of retired scarecrow. It’s strange how something so still can appear to be dead or alive. We don’t know why the lamb is still in this haiku. This allows the reader to enter the poem. The crows (being excellent scavengers) could very well be surrounding a dead lamb.
Maybe this haiku also has philosophical undertones in that what is still can have power as people tend to gather around it. We know mountains are still and have historically served, and currently serve. as spiritual places and symbols of power. In “mountain wind” we have stillness and motion.
When I think of a lamb, I think of innocence. Maybe this haiku is symbolizing that what is innocent can start a gathering of some kind. At the same time, I think this haiku is saying what is innocent and pure can simultaneously be naive, vulnerable and at risk of being attacked. It brings to mind that appearances can be deceiving and to beware of the wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing.
Radhamani Sarma pieces together the cold scene:
This week’s write depicts the pitiable condition of a lamb unable to bear biting cold in the winter season. “mountain wind” has something more to say, leaving more option and space for readers. Obviously, “the stillness of a lamb” establishes connectivity with the first line, implying that the extreme cold of a mountain wind has paralyzed the tender body of a lamb, or it could be a newborn that is dead with the stillness of a motionless body on which “crows gather.” This line offers a clue that wind blows from the mountain and crows feed upon the flesh.
Other layers of meaning are that the cold mountain wind is so speedy and powerful that it has an impinging effect upon the surroundings. Also, the lamb alludes to a child, newborn or dead, affected by the blow of cold wind. “gathering crows” has more of a showing effect, the pictorial image that drives home the intended idea: a still body or flesh, but pecking is going on because of stiffness.
Margherita Petriccione uncovers the metaphorical:
This is a normal mountain scene, an image of high pastures, which should give a sense of peace, but subtly generates anxiety. The lamb is immobile; perhaps it perceives a noise, a disturbing smell in the wind, and the crows seem to underline a presence outside the scene. But if we proceed to a deeper analysis, the lamb could be an Easter lamb, and the winds make us think of spring winds which, together with bells and eggs, also bring to mind animal sacrifice. Therefore, the crows, with their black feathers, have here that auspicious value often attributed to them. But if we go even deeper, we find a clear metaphor. The wind can easily represent the events of life that change in strength and nature; the firm lamb, our inability to manage these events, especially if we are weak, fragile and alone.
The presence of crows could be interpreted two ways: In the crows could be either the nefarious symbol of a world lurking towards those who are too candid and innocent, or the symbol of great intelligence, determination and audacity, the qualities necessary to overcome the obstacles of life.
There is a last spiritual interpretation. The author feels within himself a need for purification and for overcoming the current boundaries of his mind, something unconscious that scares him, like all great changes. He feels like a helpless lamb, alone, at the mercy of a superior strength, that wind that sweeps and transforms everything. The crow in this case has the value of an alchemical symbol of metamorphosis and passage: from ignorance to knowledge, from evil to good, from night to day.
As this week’s winner, Margherita 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!
adopted she wonders where the waves come from — Rachel Sutcliffe, The Heron’s Nest, Volume XVI, Number 4 (2014)