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
the wood’s edge, that dark life of the trees, touches the hospital — Marcel Smets, From A Wide Window (1997)
Cezar Ciobîcă branches out:
The poem generates a bleak atmosphere and reminds me of the last days of my father, who died of cancer. The person who presents this touching snapshot is either a sick man in genuine need of support or someone who has visited a patient in a hospital and demonstrates that he/she is a subtle observer.
The word “edge” symbolizes an exit, an escape, a narrow path to new life, but going deeper into the poem we can see that the second verse points to an allusion of something threatening, ominous.
Metaphorically speaking, “that dark life” is nothing but the “world of shadows” that seems to claim their rights, to take possession of souls seeking their relief, healing in a hospital which is a transient place/space, something between two ramose realms–life and death–because the images presented in this ku are placed under the sign of Thanatos and bring to my mind a famous quotation from Dante’s Inferno, namely “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate.”
In this sense, it is surprising, perhaps not accidental, the frequent presence of consonant “t” every time in the beginning of the lines as if suggesting a heavy, cutting breathing of a bedridden person ready to die, but not before saying “Carpe diem!”
Alan Summers finds touches of Kafka and Scorsese:
It must feel unusual for poets, from outside the tradition of haiku, to witness so many modern haiku in English denying most, if not all, punctuation of any kind. Here, despite no capital letters or a period/end stop, we do gain two lovely commas though!
A reader new to haiku will know to pause by the wood’s edge, “that dark life of the trees” and pause again before remembering again they are on the grounds of a hospital, needing respite, from a new reality about a loved one. In fact it appears that it is the author himself who had a short stay in a Brussels hospital (Belgium).
The commas are well placed to aid and abet the reader new to haiku. The stay in a hospital is real, yet the haiku has a tinge of a fairytale, or perhaps of Kafka, or even of the neo-noir psychological film entitled Shutter Island. But no, this is a hospital, not uncommon in places, which has a small wood, and green places, for those patients able to go outside and enhance their recuperation.
An expertly judged and punctuated haiku giving lots of food for thought.
Radhamani Sarma ponders the final journey:
I am very much privileged to comment upon the haiku of Marcel Smets, a haiku writer who is said, according to some sources, to have explored the theory of landscape beauty and urbanism, focussing upon their interrelations in an admirable way.
One’s immediate reaction is to recollect a poem by Robert Frost: “The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep” but with a different approach. Poets usually observe that the deepening, darkening silence of woods has an effect not only on their poetic oeuvre and creativity, but also leading us all on a philosophical journey. A casual walk through the thick green foliage, brown sturdy stems, the chirping of birds, sunrise or cool moon by your pad and pen–all these undoubtedly have a lasting effect in our livelihood of pleasant times.
Yet, here the poet connects “that dark life of the trees” to a final journey, a hint of an esoteric message from above.
All the gloomy darkness is seen penetrating the hospital ward, bed, patients fighting for life; the dark life of trees is a symbolic representation of the final journey envisaged in hospitals.
As this week’s winner, Cezar 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!
a line borrowed from another poet spring rain — Paul M., Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (2013)