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
My two plum trees are so gracious . . . see, they flower One now, one later — Yosa Buson (1716 - 1784)
Radhamani Sarma finds comparisons:
This week’s haikai by Yosa Buson allows readers many multi-dimensional approches. The first person in “My two plum trees,” leads to ”so gracious…” with a pause, making us delve into the matter, to wonder, “What more?”
“Two plum trees” may suggest a comparison between two trees raised in the poet’s garden. ”see, they flower/ one now, one later” shows them blooming with rich, succulent, juicy fruits.
Read as a pun, the poem also takes us into metaphorical ambiance. The speaker’s intent could be deliberately clothed in poetic beauty: A lofty depiction, veering ’round two girls, both perhaps seen through a worldview of humanity with love and attraction. These two damsels “flower” in different seasons so that one may not be ready to fall into the speaker’s advances. The comparison between them conveys different appearances: One is grown and ready for marriage, the other has yet to attain maturity. Different layers of meaning are Infused in these subtle lines.
Mary Stevens sees appreciation for nature’s ways:
What a playful poem! Of course, the plum trees are not timing their blossoming for Buson’s extended viewing pleasure. Instead, I see in this poem an expression of appreciation for nature’s timing. But can we extend this gratitude toward events that do not work out according to our sense of timing? This poem can be a playful reminder for patience and trust that everything is unfolding in just the right way at just the right time.
Pratima Balabhadrapathruni ruminates over various perspectives:
Buson was a bunjin, one of the literati, an accomplished painter and poet, and familiarized himself with Chinese poetry and art. The cross-cultural influence did lend itself to his own art and maybe to his poetry, too. In the Edo period during his time, the Japanese were already cross-pollinating their plum trees. So could the different flowering windows be attributed to the two different plum trees?
But then again, is this poem only about plum trees and their blossoming? What if it were about two individuals and their coming of age, spring being the time for the plum to blossom? Both are plum trees, and so are the same kind. He does not say: “My plum and my cherry blossom.” Rather, “My two plum trees.” Is this a nod to the resilience of two individuals, resilient as they are to the harsh realities of life? I mention resilience because the plum alongside the pine and the bamboo is one of the three friends of winter, an art motif used by the Chinese, and Buson as an artist was aware of this. Could it be that he speaks of two different poets and how their work seems to gain momentum? Or is this about different perspectives on life or literature or art? Or is it just about the appreciation of what is being its best and radiating joy into the heart of all the onlookers like both trees in his garden?
Is it about the different approaches to writing haiku? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that there is a certain acceptance of the outside entering his own sphere of life that is visible through his poems. He uses “My” which is exactly the opposite of Basho’s detached observations. For instance, Basho wrote:
In the plum blossom scent
the sun pops out
a mountain path
And we have his approach, where the self is an observer, a kind observer, but an observer nevertheless, and so a distant spectator. Whereas Buson, with “My” in this particular poem, brings the reader straight into his backyard and is the friendly neighbor.
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă explores a prolonged epiphany with nature:
Ume [“plum”] is associated with the start of spring and good fortune; it was often planted facing northeast to ward off bad luck. The poem strikes you with its simplicity and serenity. The poet feels very lucky that he does not have two plum trees that flower simultaneously, but at different intervals. Thus, he has the opportunity to take part in this show twice and to charge himself positively with the pure light of plum blossoms. The direct address to the reader — “see” — highlights the altruism, the poet’s desire to share this joy with the reader, while “gracious” in the second line humanizes the plum trees, transforming them into characters that give the poet’s spirit the chance to experience a prolonged epiphany (“one now, one later”). The fear of the passage of time can only be cured by harmonizing with nature.
The poem immediately reminded me of a quote by Confucius: “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”
As this week’s winner, Cezar-Florin 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!
still winter field… the repeated bark of a solitary crow — Bruce Ross, among floating duckweed (1994)