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re:Virals 187

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

     one egg
     rattling in the pot
     autumn rain
          — Sandra Simpson, The Haiku Calendar 2009 

Marion Clarke finds comfort in the sounds:

The simplicity of this poem is one of its strengths, beginning with the matter-of-fact statement in L1 that there is a single egg. The verb ‘rattling’ in L2 is a surprise, because wouldn’t an egg break if it were rattling? But then we learn it is in a pot. Ah! This is the sound of a boiling egg clinking against the side of a pot that is being described…which can be quite a comforting noise.

But then we come to ‘autumn rain’ in L3, which introduces a much more sombre tone. When the reader goes back to the beginning, to that solitary egg in the pot, it is a sad story now. Perhaps this is a person of a certain age who used to cook for a whole family, and had a pot full eggs happily rattling away on the stove, but now there is only one. Or it could be that the narrator lived much of her early life with a another person who has left or passed on.

The use of sound in this haiku is excellent. The egg is clinking against the metal pan, echoing the ticking of the autumn rain on the kitchen window pane. Does the narrator perhaps feel a little like that solitary egg rattling around on her own? For me, Sandra’s poem is a great example of the technique of mono no aware. She has captured pathos and a beautiful sadness in this scene with the sights and sounds of a single egg boiling in a pan and that autumn rain. Wonderful!

Robert Kingston dreams of electric sheep:

First thoughts on this haiku was of a scene from the film Blade Runner.
Set in 2019, the scene shows Pris, a female replicant, dipping her hand into a boiling pot of eggs, then removing one and throwing it to J.F Sebastian, an engineer in some form of robotics. He had an age-degenerative disease that showed him as a middle aged man, his actual age being much less. His only companions being his own creations.

The connection comes, I believe through sadness. We have a lone egg rattling in a pot. Was it a self observation by Sandra or that of a witness to someone of whom she cares about, who she was visiting? The lone egg perhaps indicating that previously, two eggs were boiling, one for a partner. The rattling being the stirred emotions of change. The autumn rain, the tears that fell on account of his or her loss, or the sadness of being alone.

Reading deeper, we have an egg being cooked. The foetus being denied an existence. The narrator perhaps feeling angry after having had thoughts of the chick that could have been. Has the narrator reached an age whereby she sees the world differently? Has she reached her Autumn years and is reflecting on the event unfolding in her midst and this is the reason for her sadness?

From a more upbeat angle:
We have a mature mother-to-be who has become pregnant, perhaps having gone through an IVF programme. Her first visit to the clinic revealing that one egg has been successful.

A wonderful haiku, that teases all our senses.

Petru Viljoen also dines alone:

Breakfast for one. Presumably breakfast. Though I am reminded of many dinners consisting of a single egg on a slice of toast. Is it only the lonely ones who do that?

This haikai tells of a before and after. There once was more than one. We don’t know how many. Autumn follows a full summer which was preceded by a spring. I imagine a life fully lived and here we have the beginning of the end – it’s not quite winter yet for the protagonist, who is the only one left and there isn’t much to look forward to. She (is it a ‘she’?) is rattled by her/his dismal situation – what’s the sound of one hand clapping?

The line breaks are perfect. I don’t miss a hyphen or other punctuation to indicate the cut to the third line.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă starts at the beginnning:

Ab ovo, this ku drew me through the noises that fill in the empty spaces…
In the first part of the poem, the focus is on the egg that, by boiling, makes probably a disturbing noise; the egg seems to be a percussion instrument, which through the rapid succession of short, sharp and hard sounds, tries to accompany the autumn rain from the second part, which highlights the monotony that predisposes us to depression, anxiety.
Why an egg and not two? Because it’s about a single person who, while preparing their breakfast, probably thinks about something or remembers fragments of their own life. The rain makes the narrator forget about that boiling egg and transports him or her in the past.
The overall picture points out the distress, the emotional void, and this idea is emphasized at a phonetic level by a suite of harsh consonants that make you hear the same ominous sounds…

As this week’s winner, Marion 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 187:

     dark matter the dreams I cling to
          — Brendon Kent, Failed Haiku #1 (2016) 

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. This discussion has reminded me, if I need it, of what I adore about haiku and the haiku community – the thoughtfulness with which everyone has approached these few words is astounding and I give you all my grateful thanks (and a big hug to Lorin for choosing my haiku for discussion).

    I especially appreciate the comments on the use of sound as that was what spurred the creation of this haiku, standing by the stove and listening to an egg boil in a saucepan as rain hit the kitchen window.

    That boiling sound also brought back childhood memories of collecting eggs in autumn/winter from the henhouse (chook house in the local vernacular). We gently put the eggs in an old, handleless saucepan (one sound) and carried it back to the lighted, warm kitchen, each step across the paddock producing another sound. It was a heavy pot, so as smaller children we had to carry it in front as we walked so we could also see the eggs rubbing against each other.

    The theory that when I wrote this I was facing my first child leaving home had me doing the maths! My daughter would have been 15 so was still living at home and attending secondary school. She began her university career a couple of years later at the most distant uni in NZ she could! (Actually, it’s the best science university in the country and her father’s old uni, so it’s just a joke.) She moved to Melbourne (where she now lives) for further study in 2015.

    Melancholy strikes me regularly (even before ‘sad’ things have happened) so I’m thinking the downbeat note you all picked up on was genuinely felt at the time. It may just have been the rainy, cold day, combined with a lunch for one (yes, it was a lunchtime).

    “Rattling round the house” is a nice interpretation of what’s going on in the pot. I like it! And I will add that my first pregnancy was a miscarriage, which I felt very deeply for many years, so the comments about IVF and the symbolism of an egg … well, who knows?

    My experience is that haiku have meanings often hidden to their authors! I tend to write instinctively and later (sometimes years later) realise that, yes, there is something deeper there, something I had no awareness of at the time. (Hope that confession doesn’t now mark me out as a ditz!)

    The commentaries and comments are so generous that I’m thrilled Marion let me know this was happening – thank you all for thinking so deeply about this poem and being so generous with your time.

    Please ask away if this reply throws up any questions.

    1. Hi Sandra,

      thank you for making time and caring enough to write a response.

      I am fascinated by the craft and the form. Did you do some editing. Was the pivot intentional? Please, please, do talk about the form.

      1. Hello Pratima,
        From memory, no editing. The words and images came all of a piece – it happens for me like that, sometimes. The great Australian haiku poet Jan Bostok told me not long before she died that her later haiku always ‘came’ complete and she rarely felt the need to edit them. I haven’t reached that stage yet but these days am able to roll things around in my mind before I get a pretty good first draft down. I do often edit one or two haiku onscreen just before I push ‘send’ – oddly, those poems are often the ones picked by an editor. That immediacy of a submission seems to push me into a fertile mental ‘zone’.

        The pivot was intentional.

        From my records, my first one-line haiku wasn’t published until 2009, although I know I had been experimenting with that style earlier. This haiku is too long to work as a one-liner, and I was very comfortable with it being in the classic short-long-short format. Occasionally, I deliberately write l-s-l or move the lines around on the page, but pretty much I have things flush left and in 3 lines.

        Every now and then I challenge myself to write using another sense (other than just sight) and remember being pleased with the ‘sound’ of this one.
        Best wishes, Sandra

        1. Thank you Sandra for revealing the inspiration behind your haiku.
          As you have said. The mind boggles, even with so few words written, our minds can draw fruits from our diverse lives.
          Happy IHPD 🙂

    2. 🙂 Great to hear from you here, Sandra (and thanks to Marion for contacting you)
      – Lorin

    3. Thanks so much for responding, Sandra, it’s always a delight and, of course, enlightening to hear from the poet on how a particular poem was born.
      The sights and sounds in the childhood scene you have described remind me of the poetry of Seamus Heaney – an enchanting depiction!

  2. Hi Lorin, I’d love to know if the phrase Peggy picked up on – “just you (or me) rattling around in that big old house” – was indeed on Sandra’s mind. Particularly if you are correct in your thoughts here:
    “I think this haiku of Sandra’s was published … in the same year that Sandra’s daughter left home to study in Australia…”
    If you are, it helps explain why I was so drawn to Sandra’s ku and felt compelled to write about it. You see, our eldest child and only son left to study in Belfast recently. This isn’t so far away but because he works weekends, he rarely makes it back and I miss him soooo much. Now our only daughter will also leave for uni in September and I’m dreading when it’ll be just my husband and I “rattling around” the house. I’ve already shed more than one tear (and she hasn’t even gone yet!) so can totally understand if Sandra was writing about this “empty nest” situation directly from experience – and the heart.

    1. Hi Marion, 🙂
      I’d love to know if that expression occurred to Sandra, too. 🙂 And equally, I’d love to know whether you’re familiar with that expression, since you wrote the very fitting (imo):
      “Does the narrator perhaps feel a little like that solitary egg rattling around on her own? For me, Sandra’s poem is a great example of the technique of mono no aware.”
      Because sometimes these common cultural expressions (we might even say ‘cliches’!) are subliminal influences of what we write and sometimes they’re conscious and we deliberatley work with them. Whichever way, though, there’s something of humour in the cultural expression (“rattling around in this big old house”) even though it implies aloneness. But what Sandra has done is to evoke the real sound of something that rattles in a particular way, something so everyday that most readers would be so familiar with it to the extent that we usually wouldn’t even notice the sound (a boiling egg) .
      Unlike the fairly common “rattling around” expression many of us would’ve heard sometime, Sandra has provided what T.S. Eliot called an ‘objective correlative’ in the sound of that one egg rattling softly. Itevokes the situation of a woman “rattling around” in a house empty of the whole family that once lived there. It is in the relative silence of that absence of family interactions etc. that she/we can actually hear and be aware of the sound of one egg rattling in the pot. And it is this awareness that underlies your very apt classification of this haiku as ” a great example of the technique of mono no aware.”
      Well, I reckon, anyway. 🙂


      1. …and ps, Marion : I don’t know whether my guess was correct or not but I do suspect that you & Sandra have this situation in common. It’s no wonder you tuned in to that, imo.
        Sandra’s ‘Poet Profile’ & contact details are here in the THF Registry:
        The full & correct credits for “one egg” are given there, too. I was the editor who selected her:
        photos of her father
        in enemy uniform –
        the taste of almonds
        for Notes from the Gean (before AHG) It is now archived at The Poetry Foundation, I see.

      2. Yes, Lorin, I know the expression very well. In fact, my mother often used it when referring to her and my father, once we all started leaving for uni. She also said she didn’t want to end up rattling about in the big house on Seaview on her own after his death – which she has done anyway!

        I’ve also used the phrase more than once recently after friends ask about my children and what they’re up to.

  3. And wow, Robert! 🙂 Kudos. Yes, indeed,well observed, and what an interesting connection, The pathos of both Pris and the lonely maker of the old-fashioned simulacrums, who grows old all too quickly, too.
    (Well, I would say that, being a long-time fan of Philip K. Dick . . .and quite liking the film ‘Blade Runner’, too, 🙂 It is not the same thing . . . )
    Yes, it is that juxtaposed “autumn rain” . The reminder of mortality. The sadness in the knowing the shortness of our lives, of all lives, and of where we are in the cycle at present .
    – Lorin

    1. grey matter
      through the mist
      the mirror

      Blade runner is top of my list too, Lorin. The later one not so much. Perhaps need to rewatch a few more times.
      Thank you for your comment.

  4. What wonderful comments from everyone, both in the original post and in these follow up comments. I love all the possibilities in this seemingly simple poem. May I add one more thought that comes to mind as I read it. How often do we find ourselves attempting to convince an elderly parent or elderly relative or friend (or even ourselves) to move from a large house to a smaller, more compatible living space? That familiar phrase just seems to pop out. “It’s just you (or me) rattling around in that big old house!” The single egg rattling in a pot which was probably meant for many more eggs, opens the reader to a contemplation of the way life moves on for us humans in our autumn years, still occupying a space once filled with many more friends and family, more noise, more laughter, more summer sun.

    1. “That familiar phrase just seems to pop out. “It’s just you (or me) rattling around in that big old house!” ” – Peggy
      🙂 Peggy, I have an old friend who has an historical mansion in Hobart and who uses that expression. This is how we can find ourselves when the children have grown up and left home. Marion, Robert, Petru and Cezar-Florin have all touched on this kind of aloneness or loneliness, each in their own way of expressing it, in their commentaries (good commentaries, all, and I’m very pleased with them) but you’re the first to tune in to that common expression, Peggy. (I feel you’re right on the mark. 🙂
      I can’t help but wonder whether that expression was at the back of Sandra’s mind, too, whether the egg rattling in the pot and certain circumstances brought the common expression to Sandra’s mind. ( I think this haiku of Sandra’s was published (in T.H.N. first, as Paul pointed out last week) in the same year that Sandra’s daughter left home to study in Australia… in Melbourne . . . actually, where I am).
      Whatever the facts behind Sandra’s inspiration, I’ve always been drawn in by this haiku and I admire it tremendously . Just enough is said. Not too much, not too little. The sound of autumn rain echoes the sound of one egg softly rattling against the sides and bottom of a pot on the stove (a saucepan, for those more familiar with American English) Breakfast alone is indicated.
      Simplicity in haiku is not easy because it cannot be contrived. It comes from the heart. Direct.
      – Lorin
      – Lorin


  5. Well, … I think I will mention the (possibly) pivot and the therefore made possible fragments.

    let us consider:

    one egg
    rattling in the pot

    that is one fragment 1


    rattling in the pot
    autumn rain

    that is the other, fragment 2

    which is why I would like to call L2 the pivot , even though the pivot works much like in sonnets and offers the twist in the tale.

    when we consider fragment1:

    one egg
    rattling in the pot

    the phrasal expression or simply the phrase is: autumn rain

    and the poem reads pretty much as we all tend to read it.

    when we read the phrase as : one egg
    the fragment as:

    rattling in the pot
    autumn rain

    what do we come up with? I will leave the many for all of us to work on and will comment on the obvious:

    there is only one egg and many mouths to feed, the autumn rain rattles in an empty pot.

    Far-fetched, yes. But also, deliberate and maybe misreading the poem, apologies to the poet, but this too is a possible way to read, …perhaps…

    And then, should we look at the poem and ask whether the phrase and the fragment are in parallel or are they in juxtaposition, how does the poem change ?

    I have to say this is a very simple write and such possibilities of reading and misreading are possible,…don’t you guys wonder why the poet wrote this …
    like with all simple things, commenting on this poem has been complicated…but fun

    Would the poet like to say about the how the poem got written?

    1. Pratima….i too, read this poem….with the pivot….leaving the one egg by itself….and the actual sound of (only) autumn rain rattling in the pot.
      Sounds like the empty nest syndrome. When a mother remembers cooking a boiled egg for her one/last/only child on a cold school morning. Perhaps the sound of the autumn rain, that time of year when the child leaves home to go to school…reminded her of this memory. Only now, the child has grown up, leaving the nest for good.
      So there is no egg in the pot….only autumn rain…its loneliness, and sadness. an emptiness is honestly, expressed.

      1. Interesting interpretation, Wendy. The egg being elsewhere and an empty nest.

        Your interpretation, uses the first line as the phrasal element/expression/phrase. The second and third lines are the fragment. You are extending the thought in the poem, there is no contrast. The one egg that belonged in there, is elsewhere. Therefore the empty pot, with the autumn rain rattling in it.

        Lorin, mentions ‘autumn’ as that time in life. The empty nest syndrome- as you have said. I would like to add that something does fill the empty pot. The autumn rain. The pot is not really empty.
        Mind you, I am not in disagreement. Merely exploring possibilities. How much can a haiku hold? As much as the reader explores, I guess.

        Growing up brings with it, its own heartaches, and also the maturity to deal with them, I guess. Look at the poem, it is simple, honest, direct. But most importantly, whichever way we read it, the emotion in there does not escape us, even though there is no direct mention of it, everything is implied, and subtle.

        Thank you for choosing to discuss.

        much luv

          Thank you for your generous response, Pratima. i wanted to add that i see this poem taking place outdoors, mostly.
          Were i to go into a hen coop, with a pot, say on a brisk, rainy morn in autumn, and only find one egg….this would be quite normal….as the cooling temperatures slows down the egg laying process….and as i rushed back through the yard, i could have slipped in the mud, broken the egg…that fell out of my hand and as i lay on the ground with my pot close to my head i could hear clearly, just at this moment the rain tapping on the metal pot…. could i write this same ‘ku?

          1. well… you could write the -damsel in distress haiku – or the -darn the egg- thing. Whether you would write the same haiku – is debatable. the emotions are different, …no?

  6. hey Marion C 🙂 great to read your commentary. And you chose the work of a favourite haijin of mine…

    Robert, like Radhamani, you too have an extensive spectrum of analysis, from single status to the mother in gestation. Wonderful.

    Petru, what indeed is the sound of one hand clapping? I think I agree with you on matters of punctuation…for now …

    Cezar, you brought up phonetics and sound into the poem, thank you. the sounds of -g- being repeated in egg and rattling, the -t- and the harshness in the way these make the words sound, given the way the words are enunciated

    gosh, this is quite a challenge to write what has not already been mentioned, but what is a discussion without an edge? hmmm

  7. re:Virals 186:

    one egg
    rattling in the pot
    autumn rain

    — Sandra Simpson, The Haiku Calendar 2009

    Many thanks for publishing haiku and senryu in this blog, thereby accommodating all writers involved in this forum, for wider critical vistas and speculations. This powerful write, by Sandra Simpson, an established writer, beginning with an image of “one egg “in the first line takes us further to a “pot”; we infer poet possibly also means a frying pan, or vessel, in which omelet is being prepared. For catchy rhythms’ sake, poet has appropriately employed the term “rattling in the pot”; infusing life to egg outside the shell on the fire/pan/pot / whatever one may call it.
    During the process, the frying sound emanating is like an autumnal rain to the ears.

    Another possible connotation is this: I have seen in ancient houses, leaky roof, water dripping through, landing inside the vessel or pot, is with a rattling sound getting accumulated. That could be autumnal rain. That water is imagined egg.

    One more inference, when the snake charmer plays, snake inside the pot, rattling
    until he stops, the nonstop tuning is autumnal rain. That snake is poetically conceived as “egg” rolling or rattling.

    Again fully grown embryo or child circling around in the mother’s womb,(pot) kicking around the tender walls, is wonderfully imagined in poetic terms. Autumn is also synonymous with harvest, here the approach of confinement time is also possibly adumbrated.

    1. Hi Radhamani, I like what you see in the poem. From the fetus to the snake… thank you for sharing

    2. Hi Radhamani,
      re: “an image of “one egg “in the first line takes us further to a “pot”; we infer poet possibly also means a frying pan, or vessel, in which omelet is being prepared.”
      Yes, a cooking vessel. In both Australia and New Zealand (where Sandra writes from) a pot in context of cooking is what is also called a saucepan (and a pan is the shallower vessel also called a frying pan). Because the egg rattles, makes that rattling sound in a pot, we know that the egg is being boiled in water, its shell intact. It’s a simple boiled egg that’s being referred to.
      – Lorin

      1. Dear Lorin Ford,
        Greetings! sorry for the delayed response. I like your take establishing connectivity with the egg in boiled water , yes ” the shell intact”

        “Yes, a cooking vessel. In both Australia and New Zealand (where Sandra writes from) a pot in context of cooking is what is also called a saucepan (and a pan is the shallower vessel also called a frying pan). Because the egg rattles, makes that rattling sound in a pot, we know that the egg is being boiled in water, its shell intact. It’s a simple boiled egg that’s being referred to.”

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