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
winter stillness leaves become their veins -- Peggy Willis Lyles, To Hear the Rain (2002)
Peggy Bilbro delves into winter:
Winter stillness, perhaps after the snow has fallen when all of nature is covered with a white blanket and all sound is muffled. Perhaps that time when the cold wind dies down and all the birds have flown. Peggy Willis Lyles’ first line seems to refer to a stillness deeper that just a quiet evening. We are in a winter stillness even more profound, more intense. She follows it in the second line with an image not often associated with winter: “leaves.” Leaves usually represent life and new growth, not the barrenness of winter when all plants disappear under the snow and into the earth to renew their life in the spring. But then in the third line we see that these leaves are not underground, but still exposed to the cold of winter. Not young healthy leaves, but mature leaves, past their prime. In fact, they are dead leaves, having been reduced to just their veins. The veins of a leaf are their equivalent of our skeleton. They give the leaf strength and flexibility, as well as nutrition. The veins of a leaf spread out from the central spine just as our ribs and limbs do. With this line, we are suddenly faced with mortality. Not only the death of plants that winter brings, but the eventual, permanent death we will all face, the silence of our winter, what we will become…a mere skeleton. What a striking poem Peggy has created. She holds us tightly to an image within the natural world while leading us to the metaphysical plane of our own existence, and eventual return to earth as nothing more than bones.
Radhamani Sarma considers the foliage:
Delighted to go through this write, the pivot of which veers ’round a season and the sequential reference to leaves. The first line — “winter stillness“ — carries much further meaning with a wider scope as we move to the second and third lines. Winter stillness is something impacting not only humans but also plants and leaves, flora and fauna. Literally, veins are portals through which blood circulates, to and from the heart.
Possibly the poet adumbrates the situation. During winter, food storage in plants is at a reduced level, resulting in the shrinkage and falling of foliage. At the same time, droplets sustain plant, stem and leaves; hence, “leaves become their veins.”
Metaphorically, during the chill of winter, writers, numbed by cold, move indoors; they feel inspiration passing through them, the passage of leaves, here poetically termed “veins.”
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă explores the many layers:
I like this ‘ku because it offers many levels of interpretation.
If it is about the beginning of winter, then the image probably refers to the drying of the leaves, whose venation pattern becomes much more prominent. The arrangement of veins symbolizes a remnant of life, a relic.
If it is about tea time, the second part of the poem could suggest that tea leaves open up again due to the infusion, and therefore they can provide, depending on the positional placement of the leaves, very interesting information for connoisseurs.
If it is about the end of coldest season, the poem probably refers to the latent states, to the beneficial sleep, in which mother nature weaves its beautiful dreams, by means of infinitesimal threads, preparing for the next spectacular show – the awakening of spring. Just as a baby develops inside the amniotic sac throughout pregnancy, so too do the leaves, propelled by sap, make their first steps in order to escape from the trunk.
In accordance with the key of the chosen interpretation, the sound of “s” highlights, at the phonetic level, the subtle song of transformation, of the impermanence that makes life so beautiful.
Margherita Petriccione encounters keen awareness:
Once while looking at my mother’s hands in her last years, I happened to think that, little by little, the most hidden features of her anatomy remained: the bones that protruded with their raw lines under the skin, and the swollen and bluish reticulum of the veins.
These verses have catapulted me back years, and at the same time made me enter without illusions into my present. If the perception of impermanence can be a sweetly agonizing flash that pervades you without obstacles, that has happened to me. I perceived not only the cosmic passage of time and the change and losses that define it, but above all that the waiting winter in which I am immersed is mine.
Yet the thing is not shocking. The winter quiet that surrounds us in the first verse has its sweetness, in which the anguishes take on less harsh contours; they fade in a less incisive light, they hurt lightly.
In the spirit of an elderly person, winter peace can be interpreted as the achievement of that slow refinement of awareness, which leads to the perception of every fact and phenomenon in its deepest and most vital essence.
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!
cool night – stars fall but don’t reach the dried grass — Ludmila Balabanova, motes in the sunbeam (2007)