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re:Virals 19

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

     dry heat —
     to the same withered flower
     a bee returns
          — Charles Easter, Frogpond XXII:3 (1999)

Marion Clarke found a moral lesson here:

This haiku reminded me of the proverb:

     ’Tis a lesson you should heed:
     Try, try, try again.
     If at first you don’t succeed,
     Try, try, try again
          — William Edward Hickson (1803–1870)

It also highlights the driving force and unending cycle of nature; despite the hostile environment with its ‘dry heat’ the bee still returns to the ‘same, withered flower’ either to collect nectar or pollinate.

But Jo McInerney found something more from the ecology:

A dramatic decrease in the number of bees, especially in the northern hemisphere, has become yet another marker of environmental degradation. In 1999 concern over declining bee numbers did not appear necessary.

In Charles Easter’s haiku, the bee displays a curious persistence, a pointless return to a flower which can yield no pollen. However, it does not make an appearance until line three. What the reader is shown first is “dry heat” and then its impact on the physical environment — the “withered flower”. Despite the dash at the end of the fragment, line two functions like a pivot, the flower is affected by the heat from line one and visited by the bee of line three.

It is interesting that it is “the same flower”. This suggests the ongoing nature of the environmental damage. This is not a dried flower; it is a “withered” one. Its loss of vitality is not deliberate and preservative, rather regretted, yet in its desiccated state it has been effectively embalmed. This is the conservation of death, carrying the awful suggestion of a lifeless and unchanging world.

The last line gives us the bee. Two features of this line seem particularly significant. Firstly, it is a single bee; there is no abundance of insect life. Then there is the fact that it “returns” to this flower. It appears there are no life-giving options available to it. It seems analogous to the dove in Genesis, flying out repeatedly over the devastating waters seeking somewhere to land. But here a lack of water is the affliction and there seems no likely hope of fruitfulness or forgiveness. It is impossible not to sympathise with this small creature in its doomed endeavours.

I recently listened to an interview with Francine Banwarth videoed by The Haiku Foundation. She suggested that some forms of political statement are the legitimate province of haiku. Not crude propagandising, but an attitude of awareness which grows out of the acute engagement with the natural world which haiku fosters.

Whatever Charles Easter’s intent, this haiku seems a powerful warning of some of the consequences of climate change. To observe faithfully can sometimes be to predict.


As this week’s winner, Jo 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 19:

     envelope my thumb slips open the seal of his tongue
          — Janice M. Bostok, Amongst the Graffiti: 
                Collected Haiku and Senryu 1972-2002 (2005)
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