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re:Virals 209

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 way words
     change everything
     falling snow
  — Victor Ortiz, The Heron's Nest, Volume XXI, No. 2: (2019)

Radhamani Sarma finds magic in words:

Thanks to Haiku Foundation for giving us a senryu this week weaving around the theme of words and how they impact on the listeners and surroundings. Starting straight off with a declarative tone, the first line “the way words” gives us a sense of anticipation of what will come next.

In the second line, “change everything” possibly also means the meaning and various connotations implied by the writer. For instance, ambiguity, irony, and other types of figurative language.

For instance, with the phrase “In front of my computer a magical wizard.” The reader’s interpretation varies: it may be a figure, or magic, or various implications, or even wall paper. Whether in print, visual media or speech, the impact of words is like “falling snow,” an image of blurred vision, spoiling clarity or obstructing clear vision.

The juxtaposition in the weaving of “the way words/ falling snow” takes the readers far beyond into a realm of imagination. It is a word-play into the field of the word’s play.

Clayton Beach enjoys the silence:

This is a quiet and delicate haiku with a gentle and soft-spoken tone. It draws the reader in with some suspense, the first two lines posing a slight “riddle” that requires the final line to give us meaning. “The way words change everything” is an open-ended truism; it could perhaps hint at relationship woes or something along those lines, but it is ambiguous enough to have us start wondering what the larger point is and requires further elucidation.

In fact, this ku reminds me of a recurrent theme from Depeche Mode’s 1990 album Violator—with lines like “words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm” or “you’ll see your problems multiplied if you continually decide to faithfully pursue the policy of truth,” Martin L. Gore repeatedly explores the idea that words can break fragile moments of human connection and that “telling all” can sometimes do more damage in the long-run than keeping a few important secrets. Indeed, little white lies can be a crucial part of pro-social behavior and avoiding coming across as completely boorish, and nothing ruins a pleasant moment of forest bathing like the noise of some rowdy hikers whooping and hollering. Sometimes it is better to simply “enjoy the silence.”

In The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster writes:

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”

The final line of Victor’s haiku delivers us into the location of the poem, somewhere where snow is falling. I imagine looking out the window at new snow, or standing in a field while snow blankets the surrounding land. And with this view comes the magical sound of silence, the perfect stillness of a gentle snow: the way a few feet can make an entire city eerily mute. Even a few words shouted or spoken in such a moment of utter silence can be quite jarring and break the spell of introspection that the sound of snow invites.

In contextualizing the first two lines with the almost spiritual silence of new snow falling from the sky, Victor plays a clever trick on the reader, making the poem more about solitude and silence than anything that words do, and when we go back to the first part, new connections can be made, for falling snow also “changes everything,” making the poem work on a few levels as we connect the ways both snow and words can “change things.”

While one can imagine the poet ruminating over an argument while watching the flurries begin, or extrapolate the ways in which words are like snow, the takeaway that lingers with me after reading this poem is an encouragement to embrace the quiet moments of life with silent attention, soaking up the beautiful solitude of utter silence, lest some inane chatter erase the beauty around us the way snow obscures all contour of the land.


As this week’s winner, Radhamani 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 210:

     celebrate the day
     pay no attention
     to the years      
   — Susan Le Roberts, Haiku Foundation Per Diem, (August 2019)

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Dear Pratima,
    Your comments are always encouraging.

    “how many times have I not seen words lure me in and change me, the way I feel or the way I see something. And where are the words? Gone, gone before I can release them or set them free, like falling snow”
    Very interesting throughout.
    with regards

  2. .
    I enjoyed reading all of the commentaries on this week’s poem:
    the way words
    change everything
    falling snow
    — Victor Ortiz, The Heron’s Nest, Volume XXI, No. 2: (2019)
    A couple of themes stood out for me with this elegant haiku by Victor Ortiz, the first being that each snowflake is unique, much like the way each individual interprets language – two individuals may interpret the same passage with completely different results in meaning. Communication takes place successfully when one interprets the speaker’s (or writer’s) meaning correctly.
    My initial reaction on reading was the idea of “snowing” or a “snow job. A snow job is a form of manipulation that involves lying or flattery to persuade someone. The idea that nothing is as it appears. What lies beneath the charming snowflakes floating gently and forming a blanket covering the surficial?
    The second theme is more a result of a personal allegory. Since I was a child I have always envisioned a snowflake as a kind of mini-angel, I suppose based on the illustrations of angels in books. Snow was a rare treat where I grew up, and as a child I was enthralled with the idea of making “snow angels” whenever we did get enough snow to blanket the ground. I see the snowflakes as a kind of envoy or intermediary and thus I read Victor’s haiku as a statement of a kind of /implicit/ faith in the cosmic or divine energy of the universe.

    1. hi there,
      interesting take about snow and snow job.

      words are deceptive. words are also true. that said:

      snow is snow, snow is also water. What if perception is a form of transcendence by itself?
      Like snow(flakes) that flow(s) as water and disappear(s), what if words acquire a different kind of meaning … depending on the emotional maturity of those uttering or understanding them…
      it really is all in the mind…no?!!!

  3. with each flake
    an alphabet

    I wrote a poem some time ago. Titled “alphabet soup” it provides a narrative of how letters, become words, become sentences, become life.
    Victor Ortiz has condensed its content into ten syllables and given us more.

    Thank you Victor.

  4. Those are two excellent responses, and it is in the perspective, the cognitive mapping or connection, that the reader anticipates and builds within( hi Radhamani)
    Clayton, it is not the -enjoy the silence – that I see here, in the poem. Thanks for bringing back the music, btw…:)

    I have to differ and go my own vector, like an arrow, or what is the purpose of my being here…

    and so :

    the words that work their magic for me are : falling snow.
    How many times have I not stood and stared at snow as the world around went about, my mind occupied by the words streaming in and the falling snow
    How many times have I not thought that it is snow, and will melt and be gone, but for this moment, and will your words stay, like carved on stone, or are they just words written on water or falling snow
    How many times have I seen the snow melt, and the words make way, the snow turn to something wet and gone before the morn,
    how many times have I not seen words lure me in and change me, the way I feel or the way I see something. And where are the words? Gone, gone before I can release them or set them free, like falling snow

    maybe with some tinkering, I can hum it… who knows …all I have is words , to take your patience away ,
    have a nice weekend, and where is everyone, come on all , come and play

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