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re:Virals 139

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

 
     early dark
     the cathedral visible
     only as windows

          — Karen Hoy Another Country: Haiku Poetry from Wales (Gomer Press, 2011)

Mary Hanrahan goes back in time:

This beautiful haiku immediately takes me back to being in church as a small child. We often attended a cathedral in my hometown near my grandmother’s house. I can still picture it in my mind. I can hear the echoes of the heavy, wooden kneelers hitting the tiled floor. Instead of listening to the sermon I would get lost in the play of light happening along the arched ceiling from the dazzling kaleidoscope of colors seeping through the towering stained glass windows. This is what I remember from all those years sitting in mass, often wishing I could escape the monotony of having to sit still and the litany of words. We see so much of the world through windows on both sides of the glass. Whether you are standing inside a cathedral or down the road, windows open up a contemplative space, a space of reflection. A window provides insight into the physical and spiritual nature of the world that surrounds us, and which often allows us a deeper connection to others and ourselves.

There are so many facets to this haiku that lead down a variety of paths for interpretation but I am always brought back to the cathedral windows. My view is from the inside of the cathedral looking out. The early dusk perhaps hinting at life being cut too short, far too soon. Just enough light is seeping through the cathedral window to soothe. Perhaps it is a divine moment of contemplation at the end of life. The reflective power packed inside this haiku is quite dazzling—much like a stained glass window.

Hansha Teki gets crepuscular:

Dusk is the time in which the light of day enters its process of annihilation—seemingly solid shapes and structures lose definition—darkness comes home to roost on the familiar, just as a crow on a bare tree at autumn dusk.

Cathedrals speak of a permanency and transcendence in contrast to the relative transience and mundane utility of other structures. In the dimming light of day the cathedral’s rock solid existence may be inferred only by the apparition of the windows—(a synecdoche?). Cathedrals can also be a place of sanctuary from a world that can appear cruel and bereft of meaning.

Are the windows visible from light within or from light without? Does the poet-persona experience an invitation to a deeper relationship with a God who is or has become a stranger or does the scene evoke the poet-persona’s detachment and separation from all that cathedral may represent to her?

So much meaning hangs on the word “only”.

Marietta McGregor is humbled:

This haiku is an intensely visual poem, while retaining a subtle spirituality in its theme and imagery. We can imagine it is nightfall in winter at a high northern latitude, or perhaps even very far south, somewhere like Tasmania. The golden hour and the blue hour have passed. The outline of this imposing structure has gradually faded to black against a black sky. Were it not for the illumination, ‘the light in the window,’ the great cathedral would be unseen. But it is the time for evening worship, and we DO see light, perhaps shining through medieval stained glass, or a rose window, the colours standing out vividly against the darkness. Whether one believes in one or more deities or does not, in a way I think the poem is a gentle metaphor for hope. The light shining from a window, whether it is a farmhouse in the dark countryside or a front parlour window of a cottage in a town or this imposing church, is above all comforting. It says there is someone here, there is a sense of welcome. The poem also whisked me right back to my Sunday school days, when we used to sing ‘Jesus bids me shine . . . like a little candle . . . in this world of darkness.’ Of course, the poem is also humbling. It says that however imposing our human creation may seem, in the end there may be only a faint glow left behind where once it stood. The poem changes focus from the soaring grandeur of the church, down to the glimmers of its windows, a very interesting and clever use of ‘reverse telescoping’ (which may not be the proper term, but describes the effect). I think the poem is both effective and memorable.

Kathe Palka gets biblical:

At first glance Karen Hoy’s fine haiku “early dark” sets a beautiful and somewhat haunting winter evening scene, “early dark” indicating a night near the winter solstice. A darkness so complete on this evening that even the large structure of a cathedral can only be discerned by the light emanating from its windows. I imagine it might also be the night of a new moon or of thick cloud cover deepening the dark. It can be seen as a depiction of the limited power of mankind, even in our grandest creations, in this case a cathedral, in contrast to that of the natural world. But from this earthly image my mind then jumps to a common Christian metaphor: the church as a light for good, in the darkness of a troubled world. I imagine this as an evening near Christmas when the activity in the cathedral would be heightened with the preparations for the season’s celebrations. And so the scene set on this night recalls for me the biblical verse from the Book of John, 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Edwin Lomere finds “ma”:

This haiku has a lightness to it, even though it speaks of the impression of a cathedral.

In L3, the poet uses the words “only,” and “as windows,” making me conjure what might have taken place over the centuries in such an ancient world.

Like other great haiku, we are left with all this unknown, and yet known, space to explore!

It is a chill on the skin impact.

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As this week’s winner, Mary 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 139:

 
     cloudless sky
     a pelican’s pouch 
     full of light  

          — Debbie Strange 

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Dear Karen:

    I am a late arrival to this viral party!
    .
    This moment is keenly perceived, and gently reminds us that there is a deep sense of spirituality to be found both within cathedral walls, and without. A beautifully rendered poem!
    .
    shine on,
    Debbie

  2. Dear Mary:

    What a lovely surprise to discover this! Thank you so much for choosing “cloudless sky” for Virals. We have a large population of pelicans nearby, and I never tire of watching the majesty of their flight patterns, and the way in which they always seem to carry their own light!

    shine on,
    Debbie

  3. Ah, yes, this is a favourite of mine from Karen Hoy. I have always imagined the windows lit up by the setting sun – as if god/the creator is showing nature to itself via the cathedral window panes.

    marion

    1. Thanks Marion!
      .
      Ah, yes, stained glass windows both reflect and allow the light through. I was a mosaicist and they rely on refracted/reflected light, but stained glass rely on interior light, or the right angle of sun. 🙂

      .
      warm regards,
      Alan

  4. Dear Mary, thank you so much! I will collate your commentary, and everyone else’s words and print them out for Karen.
    .

    Thank you Hansha! Thank you Marietta! Thank you Kathe! Thank you Edwin! Thank you Peggy! And thank you Yumino (aka Norie)! Deeply appreciated. I will let Karen know all of your comments.
    .
    .

    early dark
    the cathedral visible
    only as windows
    .
    Karen Hoy
    First publication credit:
    Blithe Spirit Vol. 13 No. 1, (March 2003) Journal of the British Haiku Society, ISSN 1353-3320
    .
    Anthology credit:
    As one of Wales’s haiku pioneers, Karen appeared in Another Country: Haiku Poetry from Wales (Gomer Press 2011) edited by Nigel Jen­kins, Ken Jones and Lynne Rees.

    .
    Feature:
    Haiku from Wales feature: Per Diem, Wales, The Haiku Foundation (May 24th 2015)
    .
    Karen Hoy:
    http://area17.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/selected-haiku-from-karen-hoy.html
    https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/poet-details/?IDclient=961
    .
    .

    1. Thanks, Alan! The haiku you selected from Karen Hoy is a fine one!

      Thanks to Danny for selecting my commentary. Looking forward to reading the comments for ‘cloudless sky’ by Debbie Strange.

      Best,
      Mary

      1. Thanks Mary!
        .
        Yes, I hope there are some responses to Debbie’s, I’ve always loved that one. Reminds me of Hervey Bay, Queensland.
        .
        warm regards,
        Alan

  5. I love this poem and thoroughly enjoyed the comments. I might add that the poem is a beautiful passage from visible to invisible and back to a different visual. The first line tells us darkness is coming. With the second line we see the outlines of the cathedral visible even against the darkness, but that silhouette is erased in the third line, leaving us with only windows, leading the mind and heart of the reader to the light glowing through those windows. Visually and spiritually stunning in a dark world.

  6. early dark
    the cathedral visible
    only as windows
    — Karen Hoy

    The author said “windows”.
    Probably this cathedral has many openings.
    In the daytime, the stained glass make a brilliant color with sunlight, and the cathedral’s exterior is magnificent.
    But the decorations turn into “early dark”.
    So, the third lines “windows”, this noun is a minimum expression about the cathedral when it is early dark.
    Generally, the concretely expressed noun is desirable for haiku, but the author said simply “windows”.
    So, I feel that this haiku is like abstract art with this minimum expression.
    I can say that this word’s simplification gives the impression of it being contemporary.

    1. Thank you Norie! 🙂
      .
      Yes, it could be said it’s a contemporary English-language haiku although the cathedral itself
      was founded back in 1140 A.D. though not old by British standards.
      .
      .
      early dark
      the cathedral visible
      only as windows
      .
      — Karen Hoy
      .
      .
      The dominant image is indeed ‘windows’ as the winter night was so dark, with little street lighting, and only interior lights to make the windows glow, and appear, as if floating.
      .
      warm regards,
      Alan

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