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re:Virals 224

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

     mountain wind
     the stillness of a lamb
     gathering crows
          –  Matt Morden, Stumbles in Clover, Snapshot Press (2007)

Jacob Salzer explores philosophical undertones:

This haiku reminds me to not stick out like a sore thumb if I can avoid it! There is ironic humor in the lamb incidentally serving as a kind of retired scarecrow. It’s strange how something so still can appear to be dead or alive. We don’t know why the lamb is still in this haiku. This allows the reader to enter the poem. The crows (being excellent scavengers) could very well be surrounding a dead lamb.

Maybe this haiku also has philosophical undertones in that what is still can have power as people tend to gather around it. We know mountains are still and have historically served, and currently serve. as spiritual places and symbols of power. In “mountain wind” we have stillness and motion.

When I think of a lamb, I think of innocence. Maybe this haiku is symbolizing that what is innocent can start a gathering of some kind. At the same time, I think this haiku is saying what is innocent and pure can simultaneously be naive, vulnerable and at risk of being attacked. It brings to mind that appearances can be deceiving and to beware of the wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing.

Radhamani Sarma pieces together the cold scene:

This week’s write depicts the pitiable condition of a lamb unable to bear biting cold in the winter season. “mountain wind” has something more to say, leaving more option and space for readers. Obviously, “the stillness of a lamb” establishes connectivity with the first line, implying that the extreme cold of a mountain wind has paralyzed the tender body of a lamb, or it could be a newborn that is dead with the stillness of a motionless body on which “crows gather.” This line offers a clue that wind blows from the mountain and crows feed upon the flesh.

Other layers of meaning are that the cold mountain wind is so speedy and powerful that it has an impinging effect upon the surroundings. Also, the lamb alludes to a child, newborn or dead, affected by the blow of cold wind. “gathering crows” has more of a showing effect, the pictorial image that drives home the intended idea: a still body or flesh, but pecking is going on because of stiffness.

Margherita Petriccione uncovers the metaphorical:

This is a normal mountain scene, an image of high pastures, which should give a sense of peace, but subtly generates anxiety. The lamb is immobile; perhaps it perceives a noise, a disturbing smell in the wind, and the crows seem to underline a presence outside the scene. But if we proceed to a deeper analysis, the lamb could be an Easter lamb, and the winds make us think of spring winds which, together with bells and eggs, also bring to mind animal sacrifice. Therefore, the crows, with their black feathers, have here that auspicious value often attributed to them. But if we go even deeper, we find a clear metaphor. The wind can easily represent the events of life that change in strength and nature; the firm lamb, our inability to manage these events, especially if we are weak, fragile and alone.

The presence of crows could be interpreted two ways: In the crows could be either the nefarious symbol of a world lurking towards those who are too candid and innocent, or the symbol of great intelligence, determination and audacity, the qualities necessary to overcome the obstacles of life.

There is a last spiritual interpretation. The author feels within himself a need for purification and for overcoming the current boundaries of his mind, something unconscious that scares him, like all great changes. He feels like a helpless lamb, alone, at the mercy of a superior strength, that wind that sweeps and transforms everything. The crow in this case has the value of an alchemical symbol of metamorphosis and passage: from ignorance to knowledge, from evil to good, from night to day.

As this week’s winner, Margherita 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 225:

     she wonders where
     the waves come from
          — Rachel Sutcliffe, The Heron’s Nest, Volume XVI, Number 4 (2014)

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Adding to the comments I made before, there is also a strong element of parody on the sacrifice of Christ in this poem, relying on Christian typology, in which the lamb of god, Christ, has died and the crows, priests in black gowns, are gathering for the first celebration of the Eucharist, in which the faithful eat the flesh of Christ.
    Subjectivity and impressionistic readings alone, like the others in this Virals, are incapable of getting at the deeper meanings latent in a poem such as this one by Matt Morden. Good tries, however.

    1. I wish the poet would say something.
      And I wonder if all of us are influenced by the festive season.
      Hughes Crow also was influenced…can we escape that ever, the way religion seeps into the subconscious, and pours out …I wonder what Richard Dawkins would see in this poem…

      thank you for the response, also the understanding of where MP and Hughes come in leading on the other thoughts …

      happy holidays and whoosh

  2. Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment, but it seems that there has been a wrong turn somewhere. The lamb is dead, and emitting the odor of decay, while crows are notorious scavengers.

    I can think of no better evocation of these natural facts than the old Scots poem, Twa Corbies, to which this haiku could be profitably compared:

    As I was walking all alane,
    I heard twa corbies making a mane;
    The tane unto the t’other say,
    ‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’

    ‘In behint yon auld fail dyke,
    I wot there lies a new slain knight;
    And naebody kens that he lies there,
    But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.

    ‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
    His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
    His lady’s ta’en another mate,
    So we may mak our dinner sweet.

    ‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
    And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een;
    Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
    We’ll, theek our nest when it grows bare.

    ‘Mony a one for him makes mane,
    But nane sall ken where he is gane;
    Oer his white banes, when they we bare,
    The wind sall blaw for evermair.’

    Meaning of unusual words:
    corbies=crows (or ravens)
    fail dyke=wall of turf
    hause-bane=neck bone

    1. ah Garry, thank you for your comment. I am still trying to read the poem aloud.
      All readings help get in deeper into the poem, any poem, and I am always into some mischief, look it got you writing a response…

      Merry whatever and new year

      1. and now that the chores are done and the day is also done, here is a more serious response:

        When I read the response from MP, it brought to mind Ted Hughes – Crow and the ambivalent quality, quirky even of Crow in there …I saw the folklore combine with the narrative and then go further,

        but most of all I relate the piece to – Hughes Crow- because, somehow given her response, I was drawn to the fact that Crow too hits a low, …

        And given the numerous versions of added poems and omitted poems, Crow still is startling when I read it, …sometimes it is the unfinished and unpredictable that bring the reader back to the work.

        I see the same unfinished and unpredictable in the poem above in Matt Morden’s poem. I am not familiar with his work, but I think you have given me enough reason to read more.

        What I do not glean from the poem is …whether the lamb is dead or alive.
        Is there a predator lurking? Did the lamb get a whiff of danger carried by the mountain wind? Is it tied there to a tree to lure a man-eater?

        I will never know. The poem does not tell me.

        the stillness of a white lamb

        (Well, the imagination takes over here …and you are on familiar terrain Garry…:) that Hughes dip was something you provoked …)

        Nandri, thank you

      1. You’re welcome, Mary! Degrees in English have definitely helped me be a better reader. I recommend them to all.

        1. And I think machine language is a great equaliser…
          cheers Gary…we have a discussion going…

          and I need my cuppa of decaf… inglish you say…I am been and brought up in inglish. And you? 🙂

  3. It was a beautiful and pleasant surprise to discover that my comment had been chosen by Theresa Cancro. Writing in an other languaga I always have the impression of not being able to make myself understood, but I see that you are understanding and have had the goodness to appreciate. Sincere thanks to Theresa and my compliments to Jacob Salzer and Radhamani Sarma

  4. perhaps, it is the poem: 13 ways of looking at the blackbird by Wallace Stevens that dictates my read of the poem. Or my easel, both of which do not overrule the heightened visual impact the poem delivers.

    So we have the still mountain, dynamic wind, still lamb and the kinetic crows
    I am wondering what the seasonal word here is, is there one?
    Also, how many pauses are there? One, more than one? What is the fragment in there, what is the phrasal?

    Should it be read as:
    mountain wind
    the stillness of a lamb gathering crows
    mountain wind…the stillness of a lamb
    gathering crows
    how are the above two reading different, if different at all?

    I prefer the second version, because, who is still when the mountain wind blows across? And why? I think there are good responses to that already.

    The one thing I am unclear about is where and how many- pause(s)
    which does nothing more than increase my awareness of the visuals in the poem and the way they change the world in there for me
    that said, on the canvas, it is the norm to place dark and light and dark and light, which means when we paint dark in one section, we change the tone and hue in the next.
    Which is what is happening in the poem: mountain -wind-lamb-crows

    which also has just made me realise that : if the crows gather, maybe it is just the lamb or dusk, and maybe it is a nocturnal predator…

    thank you for the patience of getting this far with my words

    1. Dear Pratima,

      You presented two ideas I would have had I had time to write about this poem: 1) The three types of movement: “the still mountain, dynamic wind, still lamb and the kinetic crows,” and 2) the contrast between “dark and light” in the white lamb and the black crows.

      I saw the wind as “steady” rather than dynamic. It is also colorless. This combination of images I interpreted as above the business of dead lambs and feeding crows is the wind, a kind of impersonal force: a scene that has been playing out since the beginning of time.

      1. ok, you see the wind as steady.
        Even when steady, the nature of wind is to move from a high pressure area to a low pressure area…
        so wind for me is dynamic.
        light and dark as lamb and crows. Yes indeed. Also the shadows in the mountainous region, what do they hide? And even deeper, the dark and light playing our thinking.
        I don’t know if I have said it above, but this is exactly the kind of poem I would rather not read, because it does not leave the thoughts, it makes me restless, it is really dark, like that song: When a blindman cries ( deep purple) …replace -blindman – with – lamb, and you have the same emotion as in the poem above,

        discussions are nice, they make us see the subtle nuances that sometimes we gather and garner only through discussion.
        ANd there is no right or worng reading evah… nevah moh tue


        Mary, nice to read your response. To take the thought(s) on the poem further,
        what are the wabi and sabi in there, is there an element of mystery, unsolved quality? Is that what is called yugen…

  5. Such wonderful comments, all.


    the movement of the wind, yes and the stillness of the lamb, yes again. I am so happy to read how you say it: “”We don’t know why the lamb is still in this haiku. This allows the reader to enter the poem. “”

    and yes, not to stick out like a sore thumb, but what does the lamb do? can it be a crow for camouflage…or a wolf? I only know that a lamb is a lamb and if there are the crows, then there is a shepherd too…


    I so want the possibility of the lamb being alive…this poem makes me anxious, but it is so beautifully crafted

    when you use – pecking- i get curious about the pecking order


    yes, there are layers and layers of readings and you have a brilliant response

    I do not know about purification but I love the way you say it about crows…the two ways of looking at them

    1. Thanks for your kind appreciation Pratima, I’m glad you found my modest comment interesting

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