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re:Virals 101

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This new posting is a bit of milestone — not only does it mark the beginning of a new century of re:Virals, but it also announces a changing of the guard. Jim Kacian, who administered those first hundred posts, has handed this on to Danny Blackwell, who is looking forward to your insights into a whole new collection of poems. Please support Danny with your very best commentary.

     morning prayer . . .
     an orchid absorbs
     the sound of bees
          — Hansha Teki, Multiverses 1:1 (9 October 2013) 

Dan Schwerin meditates on the droning of bees, borne back ceaselessly into the orchid:

Hansha Teki has given us something to contemplate. The first line, ‘morning prayer,’ is followed by space and time. A prayer in the morning may be to orient, or simply the start of a day’s practice. This haiku is not flat-footed about conveying some answer, but in space and time we see, ‘an orchid absorbs the sound of bees.’ An orchid is refinement, the heights of creation among us. Such refinement absorbs the drone in a way that is set beside the prayer. In space and time an orchid can take in the same tired droning and reflect beauty back. In The Great Gatsby, orchids convey perfection among characters such as Daisy, Myrtle, and Carraway. After spent opportunities for love there are, ‘dying orchids on the floor.’ The orchid of this haiku is not on an arc of momentary love, but absorbs the sound of bees. This orchid takes in the sound of bees and gives us back beauty and refinement.

Mary Stevens finds a quieting of the mind:

In prayer, we verbalize: directing our speech, aloud or within, to some greater power for guidance, comfort, intervention, forgiveness, or to express gratitude. Even its less chatty sister, meditation, while usually conducted in silence, often starts with setting an intention, and can result in receiving guidance. In this way, prayer or meditation is a kind of conversation.

But at some point in both practices there comes a quieting of the mind — a silence as subtle as a bee’s buzzing becoming muffled upon deeper entry into the sweetness of a flower.

Alan Summers finds himself reaching for love and science:

The haiku had me looking up the science. I first of all found that plants are useful to businesses because they absorb sound so well:

“Noise reduction is one of those less-known benefits of plants. Plants are used in many applications to reduce noise. Plants can also greatly reduce unwanted noise inside buildings. When sound waves hit a flexible material, the material will vibrate and the waves are transformed into other forms of energy as well as being deflected in other directions.”

Extract from: How Plants Reduce Noise Levels Indoors
by Senior Horticulturist, Ambius, Matt Kostelnick (May 2013)

I also wanted to get underneath the natural history part of the science, so on with my faithful searching and of course I find there’s a particular orchid, for a very good reason or reasons:

“The Bee Orchid gets its name from its main pollinator — the bee — which is thought to have driven the evolution of the flowers. To attract the pollinating bees, the plant has evolved bee-like flowers; drawing them in with the promise of love . . .”

Reaching for the science I realised “of course, it’s all about love!” Not the sentimentalised side of love, perhaps, but the essential drive of all things even mildly sentient, including humans, for love, for merging.

So I was blown away by the haiku after my research. We all look for love, often in the strangest, craziest places and manner of methods. So why not have a single orchid as a symbol of love quietening even the planet’s population of bees? Why not? Orchids are symbolic in many ways, including that of perfection, which so many strive for, sometimes instead of love and affection, and of innocence. And in a time of great upheaval, when there is great destruction of natural beauty, and of common sense and decency, and of community, I concur that in an era of madness and ignorance, why not have morning prayers to begin a day.

I have delved into the science, and love, but have I gone into the poem, just as the orchid itself has designed the bee to go deeper?

I go back to the juxtaposition, and that morning prayer that gains an ellipsis, and having experienced something intimate, and perhaps we could call it divine, the ellipsis is well placed both for poetical pause, but also that mystical silence filled with sound, that can be experienced in meditation.

The middle line is intriguing, which is why I began a circuitous route of investigation about how an orchid absorbs. True, without the ellipsis we could have a hinge line suggesting, or leading the reader to deliberately “misread” that the orchid is either absorbing the morning prayers, which may or may sound like bees, or both.

An arresting haiku from start to finish, and again it’s proved, at least to me, that some of our best examples of haiku deserve re-reading, and not brushing over if their surface level meaning is not conveniently accessible.

The haiku is also a good case that sometimes a stronger verb, rather than one that sinks into the background, can really set up ripples for the reader, if they care to dip their toe into the pond a little more.

Sheila Sondik thinks that plants may line the path to religion:

We read and interpret the first line through our human filters. Someone is praying, aloud or silently, or overhearing another’s prayer. In the rest of the poem an orchid receives the bees’ sound, which the flower may absorb as a form of prayer. Each partner, the flower and the bee, is dependent on the other — the bees for sustenance, the flower for pollination, which insures the survival of the species into the next generation.

A number of years ago, I took several botany classes at botanical gardens, I was awed by the complexity and elegance of the structures and biological systems of plants. One of the most amazing topics was the coevolution of orchid species and their specific pollinators. The orchid and its particular bee may, indeed, loom godlike to one another.

While I was attending these botany classes, I often thought that the study of plants was the surest way to acquire religion. I think the writer of this haiku may have had a similar experience. It was delightful to reencounter that experience expressed so beautifully in this haiku.

Sandra Simpson deals with the problems of kigo, and elaborates on orchid pollination:

In the Chinese tradition of brush painting the orchid is a signifier of spring, although Yuki Teikei’s kigo lists orchid as an autumn word while Higginson’s online list has it as mid-spring or autumn (two different types of orchid, presumably). Where I live Cymbidium orchids, one of the most easily grown types and able to be grown outside, start flowering in late winter.

But whatever the season – and I intuit late winter or spring – it’s a fine day, as honeybees don’t work on wet days or when it’s too windy. Maybe the poet is inside gazing at an orchid with the windows open or maybe he is outside with his mind open! I don’t believe he is at a place of worship but rather see him alone, praying in his own way.

Some flowers, including some orchids, are constructed so that bees and bumblebees have to dive headfirst down into the bloom to get at the pollen – the bee sound we can hear may be coming from inside the flower. Can you see the petals trembling and hear the buzz? The idea that the flower has become the bee’s buzz gives this haiku an echo of Basho’s famous poem: a bee / staggers out / of the peony (Hass translation).

As a hobby grower of orchids, the last thing I want is a bee pollinating the flower – because it then discolours and dies! The longer the flowers stay unpollinated, the longer they stay pristine on the stem (of course, I’m speaking generally – the orchid family is one of the largest plant groups in the world so there are plenty that flower for only short periods, pollinated or no). It may take years to get some orchids to flower in ‘captivity’ so a stem of flowers can sometimes seem like a miracle (or, indeed, an answer to a prayer)!

So this haiku may be read (for the human, the orchid and the bees) beyond the miracle of being alive to the certainty of death and, thanks to pollination, back to the miracle of life. (Yes, Simba it is truly a circle.)

Anyone keen on orchids native to their country will, of course, want and need bees (or other specialist pollinators) to do their job and help create the next generation of plants. Humans have wreaked havoc on native orchid populations around the world – clearing forest habitat, draining wetlands, spraying meadowland or even, as in Turkey and now Iran, eating them to extinction!

The poet has put together three things that happened in a moment and formed a set of beads that is a prayer in itself, a prayer for the good of the planet, for the small things that inhabit it, for our continued survival to appreciate moments such as these.

As this week’s winner, Sandra 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!

re:Virals 101:

     a last year’s lambskin where mushrooms gather dusk
          — Lorin Ford, First Place, Katikati Haiku Contest (2014) 
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