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re:Virals 230

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

     no telegram today
     only more
     leaves fell
          — Jack Kerouac, Book of Haikus (2003)

Sanela Pliško is reminded of stark situations:

Many poets have their favorite word(s) and favorite kigo. Reading Jack Kerouac’s haiku, I always felt that falling rain and leaves were his inexhaustible resource of inspiration. This haiku reminds me of the inevitable situations that start with faith and hope, go through anxiety, peak, and eventually acceptance. No telegram? Or, as we could translate the telegram today: no phone ring? no letter? no sms? no e-mail? no message in the inbox? Any message would be better than – nothing. And when nothing comes, everything seems as leaves falling, as a day that endlessly repeats itself. Autumn began, but slowly, slowly …

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă contemplates mortality:

A simple poem, but one that gives off a gloomy atmosphere.The poet is alone, eagerly awaiting news from someone, but in vain. Instead, nature gives him a message that probably deepens his anxiety and grinds his emotions. Autumn leaves mark the inexorable passage of time, which causes the poet to meditate on his destiny as a mortal being, on his past and on the days that remain to him.

At the end of the poem, “fell” accentuates the image of the decline and leaves a bitter taste, reminding us of Virgil’s verse: fugit inreparabile tempus (“it escapes, irretrievable time”).

Mary Stevens explores the message on the page:

I can’t help but associate waiting for a telegram with being ghosted by a text message. Waiting to hear from someone is a universal human experience, making Kerouac’s haiku as relevant today as it was even before his time, when messengers would run from town to town delivering correspondence, written or spoken. Read in this way, “only more leaves fall” refers to a context greater than just the autumn in which the poet was living. It makes us consider the repeated autumns over the eons in which human beings across cultures have waited for information and connection from those far away. Like leaves falling, this human condition of waiting is ordinary, and common.

But the correspondence between telegrams and texts is not perfectly equivalent: While the content of a text is usually brief nothings of where people are, whom they are with, what they are doing (pictures of what they are eating!), and the emojis representing their feelings about all that, telegrams were more rare and delivered weightier news. Since autumn kigo create a tone of sadness, loss, or loneliness, falling leaves could signal the sadness of not hearing from someone. Or it might suggest this sense that the speaker awaits something heavy. The similar images of the small piece of paper that is a telegram and the dried leaves falling tie to each other and to the meaning of the poem in such beautiful ways.

As another angle, knowing that Kerouac was a writer recalls the sense of “leaves” as a metaphor for sheets of paper. For example, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass had a double meaning of pages in a book of poetry. Viewing the haiku through this lens, Kerouac might be saying, “We continue to wait for news from afar; in the meantime, we keep doing the ordinary: we write.” And this sentiment he captured on the small piece of paper that is a haiku.

As this week’s winner, Mary 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 231:

     low winter moon:
     her cheek curves the shadow
     of the crib bar
          — Ruth Yarrow, Lit from Within: Haiku and Paintings (2016) 

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Let’s not forget that Kerouac, on his life journey, was often strapped for cash. Telegrams were then a favorite way to send emergency money. But while waiting one day for a cash rescue that didn’t come, he noticed that autumn leaves were falling all around. No money, only falling leaves. A wry observation that is perfectly in tune with our idea of his life style.

  2. Perhaps, what fascinates me about haiku in general and this one as a specific case study is not so much to do with the pure image, but how it is an active image that distils into the cognitive process and becomes something that implies something else.

    There is a certain dynamic movement happening while in the present. The thought is in the present. Which is an illusion, because the poet must have or maybe did not edit the poem. However, the reader, reads it in her mind, while she is processing it in the present moment.

    It is not the underlying emotions within the poem that fascinate me. Rather, it is how the poem, reaches out and states without actually saying anything. And the reader’s mind maps a response. Is that not fascinating? Every reading is part subjective and part objective. Which means the images must showcase an action. I remember that my first few attempts at haiku ( and I have a long long way to learn what it is…) always had the verb at the end of the poem. I fell in love with Yoda because I began to understand his language logic…
    However hilarious it was, the one thing that I learnt was that haiku must have an active image, an image that moves in our mind. Which is why the tense of the verb may be either the past or stationed in the present. or even a projection into the future. My mind will still read it in the moment and make its own connections. Like yours. And anyone else’s mind will. That is what Shiki achieved. That is what all good haikus ( Jack said it, so will I ) do.

    It is a connection that the poet shares with us, the narrator may be feeling any one of the myriad stuff that a human mind could, there may be a back story that we get or maybe we read another story in there. The fact remains that we connect the telegram and the fallen leaves to something important in our own minds.

    And that is partly what Pound expounded in Vorticism …
    American Haiku as JK put it across. I think Haikoos in English Language is more like it.

    Ceasar, I love your quoted material. Part of why I keep coming back to read the responses.

    Sanela, yes, autumn got to spring, slowly, slowly. I love your response,

    Mary, the response mostly addresses your response. The past tense could mean anything for me. But that is just my reading. I like how you link the present to what was written many years ago.
    I wonder when he actually penned it… must look it up …

  3. As an addition to my last paragraph, it also occurs to me that the past tense, “fell,” has the tone of a journal entry.

  4. Mary, your comment on Kerouac’s verse is down-to-earth, and understandable, I enjoyed reading it.
    As all excellent haiku, they are relatable over the decades, and beyond. You’ve done it justice with your thoughts.

  5. re:Virals 230:

    no telegram today
    only more
    leaves fell
    — Jack Kerouac, Book of Haikus (2003)

    Jack Kerouac’s write,starting with a direct message
    “ no telegram today” strikes the readers with a message
    Of saddening effect.

    The very first line,“no telegram today “betokens a preface to the take with a note that until the day mentioned,(today),there were regular telegrams,more Of sad messages or information touching the heart. The very word, “telegram” reaches most of us more Often than not,with a sudden,information with lure of
    tragic effect and poignant stirring with a feel of immediacy.

    sometimes, telegrams could also be about interview dates, congratulatory messages, fixing dates of birth and baptisms,of pleasant auguries.

    Gone are those days of telegrams; now fax and email messages predominant every where.Perhaps,author could remind this to readers, absence of telegrams.

    Second and third lines,”only more/ leaves fell/possibly be a reference to passing away of some significant dead
    Persons.(Today) telegram, not a piece of paper,but more
    Papers/ here leaves of messengers.

    Metaphorically also,(more leaves fell)symbolizing falling of leaves,converting the leaves image to dead persons.

    1. Hi Radhamani,

      I like that you use: symbolizing falling of leaves, converting the leaves to images of …


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