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 old rooster crows... Out of the mist come the rocks and the twisted pine — O.Mabson Southard, American Haiku 3.1 (1965)
Nancy Liddle gets leary:
What an image — the old major crows and his army of ghosts appear out of the mists of time. Colours of grey and black, twisted bark and drab olive pine, the mists and the rain all contained in these 3 lines. The theme of loyalty, of Kent’s love for and protection of Lear, fealty to the king is the quickening of the ancient followers to rise up out of the shades and stand behind him united. Grand old majesty!
Radhamani Sarma infers:
The haiku begins with “The old rooster crows…” with a pause before the beginning of the second line, meaning much room is left for readers to infer and imagine and complete the meaning. Furthermore, ancient beliefs say that a rooster’s call brings luck.
What follows is the appearance of rocks and twisted pine, typifying sturdiness and solidity and growth.
Here is a quote by his daughter Barbara Southard, regarding her father’s poetic oeuvre:
“Southard strongly believed that haiku should be based on concrete experience, and his keen observation of nature was cultivated in the course of frequent wanderings in the wilderness. He rejected literary criticism that emphasized the symbolic in his poetry. Whatever symbolism might be construed by others, the poet avowed that the verses he wrote flowed from concrete moments of enhanced sensibility.”
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă exits night and enters light:
The first line of the poem highlights the image of the rooster, which, it is known, symbolizes escape from the darkness, a new beginning, the need for light.
The bird’s crowing seems to bring up the sun and due to the ellipsis the loud cry reverberates around, among the landscape’s elements.
Some might say that the adjective ’old’ is not appropriate for this haiku, but on the contrary it reveals that it’s about an active element that animates the atmosphere, turning it into an vivid one.
The second part of the poem is a pictorial one and it’s clear that we are dealing with a sumi-e painting. We can see how the stones and the pine go slightly through the shroud of the fog, tinting softly the grey void.
The adjective ‘twisted’ refers maybe to the difficulties/windings of life that strengthen us and make us to move forward, being much more confident in our own forces.
In addition, phonetically speaking, the alliteration (‘st’) and the assonance (‘o’) reveals the harmony of the poem, its musicality that continues to follow us long after we have read the verses.
The poem, as a whole, underlies the idea that we must get rid of the veil of ignorance and try to see beyond the deceitful surface of things.
As this week’s winner, Cezar-Florin 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!
late summer what the cicadas insist I know — Julie Warther, tinywords 18:2 (2019)
This Post Has 9 Comments
Thanks Pratima for your lovely response – this haiku for me is a real treasure – the image works in every way for me, but the old king came to the fore immediately.
A beautiful poem in a playful voice, I almost here the rhyme: the itsy-bitsy spider went up the water spout, out came the rain and washed the spider out …( if I remember correctly)
it is supposed to be winter here and the sun is singeing my thoughts among other things…but what is glaringly visible is the cultural impact that makes the reader read into any poem…because the old rooster here, too old to be cooked or stewed crows through the day…and yes…when there is a lull in the traffic at 5:30 am-ish… and it is just about enough of pre-dawnish lighted sky, there is a mist just as the old rascal wakes up to another busy day of crowing, and if I am in quiet, it is possible to see the ghats, the small hills of on the western side of India, and also a few gnarled trees that are twisted around the backwaters, then the moored boats and the temple , all emerging out of the early morning mist that wades in from the sea for a brief few minutes,
At this point, as I read the responses and write my own to contribute the discussion, I’m very much interested in observing the mention of words that indicate a geo-feature that specifies a particular region and what that does to the phrasal word(S) or seasonal references.
Because, all said, here, where I live, the mist is an everyday thing and there is no such thing as a proper winter…but I think mist does take on a seasonal reference of sorts…
Nancy, yes, it does seem that the ‘old rooster’ does run the show, I too love the playful voice of this poem
Radhamani, thank you for the further read. Interesting indeed to read the poet’s take.
Cezar, a beautiful response to the poem. …the veil seems to lift off without much effort, does that mean that ignorance does eventually give rise to knowing…I wonder. Life is a lesson and we are always learning… it is difficult to remain ignorant
Greetings! Reading through your analysis, a wonderful pleasure, seeing the ghats,
moored boats, etc. A fertile imagination.
Radhamani, we can see the backwaters from our balcony, there are a lot of boats moored there, the fishermen anchor their boats in these shallow backwaters, it is safer…and there is enough greenery because we are in the suburbs.
This seems so accurate re the rooster that it makes me smile:
“. . . … and it is just about enough of pre-dawnish lighted sky, there is a mist just as the old rascal wakes up to another busy day of crowing, . . .” 🙂
and yes, one gets used to inferring ‘world region’ after reading a lot of haiku (and knowing the general region from where the particular author is coming from). I’ve heard it said that the author’s name & place is something like a fourth line in a 3 line haiku. Your
“. . .words that indicate a geo-feature that specifies a particular region and what that does to . . . seasonal references.”
is particularly interesting. Where might we find rocks and twisted pines in close association?
(a) Mountainous regions in various countries where pines are native. (b) . A Zen garden. (c) Someone’s backyard bonsai project. (d) Traditional Chinese art. (e) Traditional Japanese art. (as in Cezar-Florin’s mention of a sumi-e painting) So any of these various ‘location images’ are possible.
(I suspect this haiku was based on Southard’s experience in one of the high, rocky regions of the USA, though. . . Utah or Colorado, perhaps.)
What I love about this haiku is that it feels much like a Dreaming (like an indigenous Australian ‘creation’ story). It seems as if the rocks and twisted pine coming out of the mist is somehow dependent on the old rooster’s crowing. That’s Southard’s magic touch.
“. . .a particular region and what that does to . . . seasonal references.”
🙂 Yes, even Japan is no longer under Imperial rule. No longer are the traditional, Kyoto- based kigo the standard for all. Okinawa has its own saijiki, I’m told!
Lorin, saijiki for Okinawa means Saijiki for Mumbai and Saijiki for Chennai …are allowed, but will they be understood?
A good discussion furthered by you …
My view is that local, regional equivalents of saijiki are possible . . . Mumbai region kigo, Melbourne region kigo but there will never be many agreed-upon ‘Indian kigo’ or ‘Australian kigo’ (or ‘American kigo’, for that matter . . . ). The only legitimate definition of a kigo,/i> that I know of is: “a seasonal reference that appears in/ has been published in a saijiki “, along with the worthy poem which includes it. 🙂
I say “many”, not none, because kigo,/i> may be simply cultural activities or celebrations which apply across the whole nation, eg Diwali in the case of India and the Melbourne Cup in Australia. (Actually, Diwali is celebrated around Melbourne, too…on the same dates, in the opposite hemisphere. Obviously, the season in relation to climate is very different for each, but ‘Diwali’ would qualify as ‘World kigo’ )That sort of kigo, like Christmas, doesn’t rely on local climate season. If we’re sharing with an international audience, it helps to know where the author of the poem is writing from, of course. If the poem features snowshoes at Christmas, the author is unlikely to be writing from Darwin. 🙂
Kala Ramesh had students consider possible kigo for the Pune region:
Takanori Hayakawa demonstrated how we might have local kigo for the Melbourne region:
interesting Lori, and thank you for sharing the links. …So that is why they usually ask us to mention from where we hail …lest it be thought we have hath a dot more the merrier and areth writing dottier haiku with merrier weather or whether it is the saki or whatnot …
I could see, in my mind’s eye, as the day becomes brighter, the rocks and twisted pine come marching forth out of the mist. That happens when the mist clears somewhat once the sun has risen. What seems far away because it has been shrouded in mist becomes closer as the mist clears. I agree the word ‘old’ is fitting because this is the way it has been from the beginning of time.
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