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
a blade of grass between my fingers father’s whistle — Rachel Sutcliffe, Human/Kind Journal, Issue 1.2 (February 2019)
Paul Geiger recalls the sounds of afternoons past:
This haiku brings to my mind how as kids we’d clamp a blade of grass between our hands and blow to hear the buzzing tone. I can imagine getting ready to blow, only Dad blows first. Or maybe Dad puts fingers in his mouth and gives a loud, sharp whistle to call me in. A sound fondly remembered since the afternoon radio program, “Terry and the Pirates,“ would be starting.
Radhamani Sarma finds hints of the ephemeral aspects of life:
The sum of this haiku can be viewed as ephemeral or as many aspects of the transience of life seen from the point of view of a poet, a creator/God, the Supreme Artist and Architect. A single image runs through from the first line, with the poet’s observation that life is, after all, a flimsy layer, blown away by a puff of wind, despite man’s myriad meticulous plans for survival.
As an image, the singular “blade of grass” is so light, pliable and supple, carried forward in the second line, which moves further with a sudden telling effect, blown by a whistle emanating from the mouth.
Simultaneously, there is a contrast between the two physical images – the fingers and the whistling – of impermanence.
A question also arises: Why the father’s whistle? Why not anyone else’s? Possibly, the father is synonymous here with God/the Creator/Artist.
Finally, the image can also be considered from the point of view of Rachel’s suffering with an immune disorder. The blade of grass is her life, a passing cloud or fleeting movement of pain and despair, which she held between her fingers, signifying sustained hope or faith, or even endurance.
Cesar Ciobîcă hears the poet’s urging to appreciate each moment of life:
Although one feels the loss of the father while reading between the lines, this is a wonderful visual and euphonic poem which seems to say that the author is definitely in search of lost time, of those magical moments when she used to enjoy her father’s company and those everyday small joys. These kind of memories remain in our mind with all their emotional load, with all their perfume, as in a time capsule.
The absence of a verb makes the poem much more lyrical and teleports the reader immediately to an idyllic, paradisiacal, timeless scene.
The assonance of the vowel ”a” suggests the depth of the scene, which fills in all the gaps by amplifying feelings. The frequency of the consonants ”s” and ”t” enhances the image by bringing to the foreground the father’s whistle. What a pretty snapshot! Dad and daughter are the centre of the universe, one teaching the other how to whistle, exploring different tones and pitches.
This is a charming ku that still touches you even after the first reading and urges us to appreciate the true value of our life moments until they become memories.
Marion Clarke is transported back to childhood summers in Ireland:
Ah, a touch of summer nostalgia!
The reader is presented with an extreme close-up of a single blade of grass in line one of this haiku. In line two, we zoom out a little to see the narrator holding it. This immediately brought me back to summer, in particular, childhood summers in Ireland. I can almost smell the fresh grass.
The introduction of sound in line three might be surprising if you’ve never heard someone whistle using a blade of grass. It brought back wonderful memories of my father during the school holidays endlessly trying to teach my siblings and me how to do this. I remember the sense of accomplishment once I had mastered the whistle (even though mine sounded more like a honk!)
This haiku is particularly poignant as I remember Rachel workshopping it here on the Haiku Foundation forum last January, not long before she left us. We both had fathers who liked to spend time with us when we were little, although, if I remember correctly, Rachel said she’d never mastered it. Her haiku, however, is masterful in its simplicity and captures an innocent enjoyment in childood.
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!
all the ways to find a meaning autumn sun — Marietta McGregor, Wales Haiku Journal (Autumn 2019)
This Post Has 8 Comments
Perhaps some are missing the importance of grass here. Walt Whitman in his epic poem “leaves of grass” speaks of a community. Further, the taste within ones mouth from having blown through a blade of grass could lead one to think of tones, texture and meaning behind each of the poet’s father’s whistles.
I also considered a medical element. Perhaps Rachel was relating to a similarity between the sound of wind through long grass and her fathers breathing difficulty.
Of course it is all supposition
A lovely poem by a remarkable poet.
a blade of grass
between my fingers
— Rachel Sutcliffe, Human/Kind Journal, Issue 1.2 (February 2019)
I agree that the grass is very important, Robert. This poem might also be Rachel’s comment on how the small things in life were so important to her; she was certainly delighted to have discovered haiku.
Oh, and thankfully both Rachel’s parents are alive and well. (I keep in contact with her mother, Marie, via email)
I had the pleasure of Rachel’s poems and friendship on fb a couple of years ago. Always an inspiration. Pleased to hear her parents are well.
At the time I did not know how broad the thf website was, only submitting to the haiku work place call from fb.
you and I almost agree on – why father’s whistle.
But I sort of think it is only a recollection… as the speaker holds the reed of grass between the fingers, and recalls how the father used the reed/blade of grass to whistle,
It is like when I teach my child to bicycle and recollect how my father taught me to bicycle…I am not bicycling but recalling …
just one more way of looking at the words and thoughts behind them….so many ways of reading such small pieces 🙂
I know from Rachel’s comments when workshopping this haiku that despite her father’s attempts to teach her, she didn’t master whistling with a blade of grass. This would explain why it was “father’s” whistle that she heard at the time and in the recalling of that memory. I think it’s one of those things that if you succeed in doing it once, you will always be able to do it…as you say, Pratima, it’s like learning how to ride a bike. However, this is almost compulsory in childhood as more or less everyone learns how to ride a bike out of necessity, but not everyone’s parent has the patience or the time to teach them something that is really just for fun. 🙂
how true Marion. Life was simpler and sweeter when we were kids.
Dear Marion Clarke,
Greetings. Your sense of perception of childhood perception / memories, quite revealing, in the following lines.
“we zoom out a little to see the narrator holding it. This immediately brought me back to summer, in particular, childhood summers in Ireland. I can almost smell the fresh grass.'”
Thank you, Radhamani Sarma. Rachel’s haiku transported me back to the front garden of our house on Seaview!
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