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
visiting graves... we flicker as we walk down shadowed rows — Michael McClintock, Shadows in Time: Sixty Short Poems (2005)
Radhamani Sarma visits the graves:
Delighted to review the poem of American poet Michael McClintock, also a critic and editor of haiku books and well trained in new-imagist literature. This haiku revolves around mood and memory/life and death/light and shadow reflected in old and new stones erected in a graveyard.
The first line (“visiting graves”) leaves much room and space for the reader’s imagination.
A visit to the grave, not a happy place to visit. New tombs by the side of old those stones, eclipsed or straggled by the passage of time. Age and time and frequent usage have effaced them.
Images of contrast interplay, adding a somber texture to the haiku. A profound study into his poetic journey amply reveals the fact that McClintock is interested in the theme of shadows. The following link would be of much interest to know more about the poet.
Marietta McGregor reflects:
Everyone has felt that discombobulating feeling of light and shadow strobing as you move in and out between them on a long country road. It can feel much worse in a car travelling through a long avenue of narrow poplars or tall gum trees, because of the speed at which the car travels.
And on, and on, and on…until a sense of unreality takes hold and it’s suddenly hard to focus, to keep one’s mind on the road. There’s the urge to shut your eyes and rest forever from the repetitive assault on the visual cortex. Just drift off and unsee the endless zebra transmission.
In Michael McClintock’s poem it’s as if the sun/shade strobe lights are flashing, but at a much slower pace. I imagine the subjects of the poem are strolling between tall marble and granite tombs, sarcophagi with draped angels and monuments surmounted by Celtic crosses, hushed in long avenues, a suburb populated only by the dead, like Père Lachaise in Paris. The sun/shade strobe is now but a flicker, as the sun passes in and out of clouds, as trees shade the walkers.
But it not only the shadows that flicker in this lovely haiku. It is also the brief lives which have been lived. It is a memento mori poem, for reflection.
‘Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow’
Cezar Ciobika remembers:
We usually go to cemetery when we miss someone who passed away and want to commemorate some great moments of our past.
Maybe it’s about the Remembrance Day, who knows…
What is certain is that the ellipsis in the first line invite the reader to reflect upon what happened, a drama. Afterwards, that double “we” in the second verse seems to point out subtly that the ones who are still living are like candles flickering among shaded rows. It’s like we’re in the underworld, in the world of shadows, and we’re trying to bring back someone very dear to us, but we cannot because we do not know the right incantation to raise the dead. The word “flicker”, the catalyst of the poem, implies also the meaning of burning, torment, passion; we can say that in the crucible of time we spread light and become finally ashes, returning to Mother Earth.
As this week’s winner, Marietta 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!
fields flooded beneath the surface, somewhere the river bends — Christopher Herold, Woodnotes 17 (1993)
This Post Has 5 Comments
A great deal resides in that word “flickers”. The poem, you might say, flickers between outer and inner— the observable flicker of moving through shadows cast by gravestones, and the subjective flickering of the one walking past them: her/his responses, shifting in some way.
Flickering I take to be a rapid movement however. I would not call the play of light and shadow on people walking by gravestones *flickering*. This is a case, it would seem, of the writer discovering what at first appears to be a depth of interplay between outer and inner. And if one is willing to accept that flickering can be a very slow sort of thing, then I suppose there is no problem.
Indeed, the living, mere flickering candles, mere shadows, walking among those whose who are no longer among us. Or are they?
When natural disasters strike I think of the resiliency and strength of the human spirit—the courage to move forward. In Christopher’s poem, though the river is flooded, it is still a river. The river doesn’t lose itself, but keeps bending, moving, doing what it was meant to do.
Greetings! in your comments, your note – car travel and image of sun/shade/
striking . Further your analysis ,
“But it not only the shadows that flicker in this lovely haiku. It is also the brief lives which have been lived. It is a memento mori poem, for reflection.
‘Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow’
very aptly observed.
Dear Rhadhamani Sarma,
Thank you very much for your kind appreciation. I’m glad you enjoyed my commentary on this fine haiku.
Comments are closed.