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re:Virals 178

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

 
     unfolding a map
     the ocean
     between us

          — Ben Moeller-Gaa, tinywords 17.1 (2017)

Nancy Liddle feels the load:

Two people, “us”, travelling or about to travel and find they are emotionally separated by an ocean of mixed emotions. Doubts? Two different destinations in mind? The ocean symbolises emotions, the swirling, churning waves we are all overpowered by, both sexes. Maybe they will break up and not accompany each other through life’s journey. If they hadn’t unfolded the map, how much longer would they have continued as they are?

The map tells the way, offers all of life’s paths. But the pilgrim chooses the path and travels either alone or accompanied. These two pilgrims are on different continents, either emotionally or physically. Their separation is simply drawn on the cartographer’s map as an ocean but the load it represents! Vast, too difficult to cross.

And then there’s the added pain of loving someone with whom you no longer have anything in common and realising the time to let go is quite near.

Radhamani Sarma unfolds the map:

Very much delighted to comment upon the haiku by Ben Moeller-Gaa, who is also a playwright. Living on land is one thing, viewing a map is another. When one unfolds a map, one sees this vast territory in their imagination. The second line “the ocean” as an image typifies not only the vastness, but also the deep rooted oceanic traits, the danger involved in diving deep amidst whales, sea monsters. Again unfolding a map, one encounters the impasse or impossibility in crossing barriers and overcoming hurdles.

Pratima Balabhadrapathruni maps the space:

What a story three lines can open up!

Caught in the moment are two people with a shared past and distanced in the present.
Does the map serve as the cartograph or the cartometer?
Is it there to measure the actual distance of separation? Or is it a tool that points to the immense distance between two people, ironically sharing the same space…

           
                    unfolding the ocean between us 
                                a map 

The word ocean sets the mood, the distance is large, it is restless, a certain unfathomable chaos that the speaker seems to be unfolding between the two of them.

However, when I read it this way:


                     unfolding the map 
                     the ocean between us 

The speaker just by rolling open a map, ushers in a small dose of happy hope. I want to get there, the speaker seems to convey, I want to close the distance between us. These are two people geographically removed but emotionally bound together.

In the poem Map, Wislawa Szymborska writes: “Everything here is small, near, accessible.”

Somehow, the ocean seems smaller, more measurable, more of a mere distance, and a certain hope hinged onto the act of unfolding a map to gauge the ocean so as to plan a route to reach the other.

This is one poem that does a volte face in two readings!

Let’s look at the rhythm of the poem:

unfolding
the ocean
between us

All the above lines are three beats long.

“the map” with its two terse beats, sets the mood for the poem, provides enough mystery.

The alignment of the poem on the page:

Van den Heuvel wrote “tundra” and used the white space of the page to show the vastness of the tundra, among other things.
Ben too, in this poem, uses the white space to accentuate the theme.
Jutting out from the boxed shape of the words:

unfolding
the ocean
between us

are two words (“the map”) in the first line.

unfolding the map

Is it necessary that they (the words “the map”) always follow the verb?
By placing them so, is the poet ensuring that the readers, at first read the poem as a sad one, of the unfathomable immense distance of two people close by?
Is there enough freedom for the reader to play out her interpretations?
Is there also a clue left on the page by the poet?
Watson, are you listening?

“I like maps, because they lie
Because they give no access to the vicious truth.”
—Wislawa Szymborska in the poem Map.

Isn’t that how it should be, to have enough access and yet to have no real clue, but being the reader, being led down that road, the mystery of the story, the carrot and the fall.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă genders the poem:

The poem talks about a lover who is longing of his/her soulmate.
The first line may reflect the disorientation of the narrator, who’s lost and seeks for a way to sort out the problem of not losing a dear person.
Everybody knows the pithy saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’, that’s why we see the complexity of a relationship between a man and a woman. At the same time it is also obvious that the verb ‘unfolding’ undoubtedly suggests at the subliminal level the idea of erotic desire, evoking subtly the sexuality of both male and female bodies.
The second line represents the pivot of the poem. With its daunting width and depth, usually, ‘the ocean’ is used as a symbol of life’s hardships. Its waves constitutes the sudden obstacles life throws our way in order to become more powerful, to balance our energies.
The ocean between these lovers can paradoxically mirror the emptiness of their erotic life, the fact that they are in a state of fear and tumult.
On the other hand, metaphorically speaking, the ocean may also signify the endlessness of distress or the ever changing moods of a woman. What counts is only the true love which, built on trust, conquers all and wins all the time.
Last but not least, the harmonious blending of vowels a, o, u highlights a pleasant musical background which seems to suggest the anxieties of the waves, but also of the soul seeking answers, solutions…

virus2
As this week’s winner, Nancy 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 178:

 
     Almost as high 
     As the crumbled statue,
     The heated air shimmering
     From the stone foundation. 

          — Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, (trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa, 1966). 

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. What substantive commentaries, all four! Reading them, I find myself echoing Pratima Balabhadrapathruni’s “What a story three lines can open up!” Thanks, DANNY, for choosing them.
    .
    I mused mightily on NANCY LIDDLE’S wondering: “If (the two) hadn’t unfolded the map, how much longer would they have continued as they are?” And I love the difference she points out between a map that “tells the way(s) and “the pilgrim (who) chooses the path.” Her “emotionally separated” two will choose also to travel “alone or accompanied.” What a choice that is!
    And I for one must admit that Nancy’s final sentence is one with which I can identify.
    .
    About the OCEAN I’ll say more later. For now kudos, Nancy, on being named this week’s winner.
    .
    RADHAMANI SARMA points out a significant difference which also, I believe, bears pondering: “Living on land is one thing,” she says, “viewing a map is another.” What I particularly like also is the sentence that follows. “When one unfolds a map, one sees this vast territory in their imagination.” How true. And, for good or ill, imagination is one of the most powerful gifts we possess, isn’t it?
    .
    PRATIMA BALABHADRAPATHRUNI’s commentary engages on
    different levels, including that of the haiku’s structure. Then, about interpretation, Pratima cleverly asks, “Watson, are you listening?” The part of myself I consider curious and willing to take note answers a spontaneous YES. I also very much appreciate Pratima’s two quotes from Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, “Map.” Both, I think, enhance the commentary.
    .
    In CEZAR-FLORIN CIOBÎCĀ’S comments, I appreciate the word “may” in the second sentence, since he gives a solid interpretation while leaving room for other possibilities — something I’m learning that haiku do uniquely. I also appreciate his point that “the verb ‘unfolding’ undoubtedly suggests at the subliminal level the idea of erotic desire…” (although, for the same reason given above, I would have preferred “may suggest” after ‘unfolding.’) Cezar-Florin’s closing “last but not least”-sentence, I believe, is worth chewing on.
    .
    The OCEAN!
    It seems to me that all four commentaries speak powerfully and poetically about this actual and metaphorical phenomenon.
    .
    NANCY: speaks of “an ocean of mixed emotions” and believes “the ocean symbolises emotions, the swirling, churning waves we are all overpowered by, both sexes.”
    .
    RADHAMANI: “The second line ‘the ocean’ as an image typifies not only the vastness, but also the deep rooted oceanic traits, the danger involved in diving deep amidst whales, sea monsters.”
    .
    PRATIMA: “The word ocean sets the mood, the distance is large, it is restless, a certain unfathomable chaos that the speaker seems to be unfolding between the two of them.”
    .
    CEZAR-FLORIN: “With its daunting width and depth, usually, ‘the ocean’ is used as a symbol of life’s hardships. Its waves constitute the sudden obstacles life throws our way in order to become more powerful, to balance our energies….”

    AN ASIDE: All four commentaries speak movingly of the haiku’s “us” as two individuals. Had I written a commentary, I may have taken that same small monosyllable to mean two parts of a family separated by a real and symbolic ocean. For as the daughter of immigrants, I watched my father weep whenever he received a letter from family members “left behind” when he emigrated to the States. Sadly, this wrenching experience is one that affects many of today’s courageous refugees.

    1. very interesting comments, and also your considerations on them. Forgive my bad english from google
      angiola

      1. Thank you for YOUR comment, Angiola.
        Also, there is nothing to forgive. It is clear and kind.
        I too use google translation at times.

    2. Dear Christina,
      thank you for you perceptive response to my response to this haiku. It’s a sad time when we reach the point where there’s nowt in common, isn’t it. And then the vast journey alone looms ahead. I’m very much enjoying the Virals side of The Haiku Foundation and the comments section with its share of knowledge and courtesy. It’s fine training, like a tea ceremony!

    3. Dear Christina,
      have just read your final comments about the two families being separated. The wrench of that plus the guilt of leaving others behind. The prospect of never being able to “go back” – very sad. Very poignant through the interpretation of two families split. Thank you.

    4. that never occurred to me Christina…that of two families separated …you have opened the poem to a far more expansive dimension, thank you

    5. Dear Christina,
      Greetings! Meticulous in assessing every comment and how encouraging are your words of appreciation. Every image,culling out from individual perspective and quoting here!
      Many thanks for the same
      with regards
      S.Radhamani

  2. Dear Danny,
    Reading all meticulously drawn analysis by different approaches of writers,
    each individual in his or her own way, starting from, Nancy,
    pratima Balabhadrapathruni and Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă

    with regards
    S.Radhamani

      1. Dear Pratima,
        Greetings! Going through right from mentioning of Cartography ,mood, quoting an author,etc, enlightening approach. Keep writing .Good luck.
        with regards
        S.Radhamani

  3. Dear Nancy fiddle,
    Greetings! Appreciate your analysis on map – life’s paths,journey and how pilgrim chooses his own path, above all -added pain of loving someone and towards the end,
    a “realization ” beyond our will. Very nicely perceived.
    with regards
    S.Radhamani

    1. Dear S Radhamani,
      thanks so much for your response to my analysis. I’m very much enjoying being part of this rather small group of souls responding to haiku each week. I like this group a lot and enjoy the task of analyzing each week. Starting to recognise each of us,

      1. Hello Nancy, yes, I too love the discussions here, …hi Radhamani, I was just reading your through your site…

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