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re:Virals 176

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

     turning away
     from the pear tree...
     turning back
          — Roberta Beary, The Unworn Necklace Snapshot Press (2007)

Arvinder Kaur unwraps the narrative:

Kurt Vonnegut once said that every story is about a character who gets into trouble and then tries to get out of it. The first thing that struck me about this powerful poem is the element of conflict, something that takes the narrative forward in any literary composition. We cannot live with it and we cannot do without it as well. It is the stuff life is made of. At once one finds oneself in a literature class trying to negotiate the type of conflict this character/poet is undergoing at the moment. Is it man against Nature, man against self, man against society, man against the unknown, the extraterrestrial, or perhaps all! How a reader interprets this haiku, and perhaps the type of conflict, will depend on what he/she is going through in life at the moment. That is another aspect that makes this poem extraordinary, it is open and the reader wants to occupy this space of unsaidness.

And yes, the resolution of conflict is there too. In that sense it can be seen on the classic Aristotelian parameters. There is a denouement in the second line and the third is clearly cathartic. The reader too heaves a sigh of relief when the poet goes back to the pear tree. Also because as human beings we are a tad scared of leaving our sense of security, and ‘going back’ smacks of homecoming, something that we as readers want from all our characters, just as we want it so badly in our everyday lives: to remain ensconced in the warmth of familiarity. It also brings about the kind of ending we all (secretly) wish for i.e. the happy one. However this is not to say that the poem does not have a sense of adventure. It certainly talks about the unknown territory when the poet is ‘turning away’. It makes the reader think that the poet struggles against a plethora of desires, like all of us. Here I am reminded of a famous couplet from the legendary Urdu poet Ghalib which translates into English as ”Thousands of desires, each worth dying for…
many of them I have realized…yet I yearn for more…”
In this sense, this beautiful haiku incorporates the entire life cycle, the beginning, the middle and the end.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă gets Bibilical:

What has intrigued me from the beginning in this poem is why somebody would refuse to look at a pear tree.
Perhaps this tree, as a witness, reminds him/her of the beautiful moments spent once with his/her soul-mate under its branches full of flowers or sweet fruits.
I think it’s about a man who suffers enormously because of a tragedy, a separation, an unexpected death, which makes him unable to pass by the tree, to face the past, that left deep scars in his restless soul.
Depending on the cultural area, the pear tree refers to some interesting symbols. Because this sort of tree can produce fruits for many years, it also represents longevity and comfort. In Christianity, it frequently appears in connection with Jesus Christ and makes an allusion to His love for mankind. Analogically, the ancient Chinese thought that the pear tree was a symbol of immortality. In addition, in the art world, the shape of the pear fruit is suggestive of the feminine form. As such, it has wide influence as a symbol of feminine sexuality and fertility.
Speaking about it, we can also speculate that the person in question is a woman who has a heavy conscience because she can not produce offspring.

It seems to me that the noun ”pear” makes you think of its homonym ”pair” (=a couple who couldn’t survive).
The ellipses at the end of the second line invites the reader to meditate, ask questions, imagine possible scenarios.
A profound ku about another Adam or Eve who try to accept their mistakes (sins/flaws) in order to deserve or to regain the Tree of Life.

Radhamani Sarma gets ominous:

Very much delighted to comment upon this haiku by Roberta Beary, an American poet who can reveal so much in such minimal words. Before delving deep into the haiku, one needs to know a little more about the term ‘ pear tree’; it is a deciduous tree with succulent fruits, it sheds its leaves annually, meaning it is a barren tree only with twigs.
Interpreting the very first line, “ turning away”, one gets the tone that the onlooker has a natural inclination to turn away from the tree, for it purports barrenness or emptiness or even ill omen, before going ahead with any project or new venture.
The second line “ from the pear tree” establishes connectivity between the first and last line. The last line “turning back” brings forth positivity and good luck perhaps, turning back to a past situation, once upon a time, when the tree was in full bloom, buoyant with springtime opulence. The haiku veers around contrast: past and present, away and back, debility and prosperity.

As this week’s winner, Arvinder 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 176:

     and then the gloomy earth
     revolves, revolves around
     a rooster’s cry
          — Abigail Friedman, First Prize, Mainichi Haiku Contest 2014 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for your response Lorin. Yes it does not happen everyday and that is why the conflict is so significant ( to me ) and the pear tree is also perhaps not just the pear tree but different things in different situations, its what one picks up from the myriad hues of life. To me,it was a kind of Hamlet like situation and the poem seemed to incorporate both conflict as well as procrastination.

  2. I very much appreciate Arvinder Kaur’s account of a ‘conflict theory’ approach and the clarity of his commentary.
    “How a reader interprets this haiku, and perhaps the type of conflict, will depend on what he/she is going through in life at the moment. That is another aspect that makes this poem extraordinary, it is open and the reader wants to occupy this space of unsaidness.” – Arvinder Kaur
    It is true that “turning away” then “turning back” might elicit a sense of conflict or a sense of the angst of indecision. But also, how often in the course of our days do we simply look at something then turn from it, ‘moving on’ to the next thing, without a second glance? What is it that prompts us to turn back back again, sometimes? Could it be an intuition that there is more to the thing than we’ve observed and turned from, that we might be missing something significant?
    It’s interesting to me that it’s the human action in this haiku which gives the pear tree (in itself rather than as something it might symbolize) a strong and mysterious presence.
    – Lorin

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