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.
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!
cloudless sky a pelican’s pouch full of light — Debbie Strange