Haikusday Tuesday : Winter Moonlight

Winter moonlight;
the shadow of the stone pagoda,
the shadow of the pine tree.

-Shiki

I don’t want to get into the habit of “explaining” poetry. Typically we tend to value poetry only for the “point” and cannot appreciate it unless it is understood, but once a poem is “understood” we tend to leave it behind. Rather, we should enjoy the act of reflection.

With this in mind consider the ephemeral “images” given: moonlight, a shadow, a shadow. Consider the difference between a pagoda and a pine tree, consider their similarities…

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Haikusday Tuesday : The Cool Breeze

The cool breeze
fills the empty vault of heaven
with the voice of the pinetrees.

This haiku, with its initial lack of images, snaps backwards once we hit the last word. We do not see a cool breeze or an empty vault or a voice, it is only when we hit the pinetrees that we can begin to make sense of the haiku. The genius of this haiku is that it enacts the very event it speaks of for just as we are surprised by the sudden and late appearance of the tree so are we surprised by the metaphor of the tree’s voice. Working back we understand the value of this voice as it fills the vault of heaven. Using the word “vault” makes this voice a treasure, using “heaven” instead of “sky” imports a more sacred connotation. In this second backward reading we feel the breeze, we see the open sky, and we hear the voice of the pinetrees rushing into our ears.

The cool breeze
fills the empty vault of heaven
with the voice of the pinetrees.

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Haikusday Tuesday : Not Knowing

Not knowing
it is a famous place,
a man hoeing the field.

Memory seems to be at the root of this haiku. Some such sin as forgetting the past or a failure to honor the past seems to be our moral, but as we work through the poem we need to ask, how is a field famous?

The answer leads us in altogether different direction, a battlefield. What strikes us at first is the desiccation of a memorial turns into a healing from the past. War has been forgotten, swords have been beaten into plowshares. Instead of blood, seeds will be sown here, instead of death sinking into the dust, life will spring out of it.

Not knowing
it is a famous place,
a man hoeing the field.

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