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
november evening the faintest tick of snow upon the cornstalks — John Wills, The Haiku Anthology (2000)
Margherita Petriccione notes the eternal becoming of all:
The harvest is over, the corn remains only as hard bushes destined to crumble and blend in with the soil in which new plants will be born in the spring.
When we were children, the snow was described to us as a mysterious and beneficial blanket under which seeds rested waiting for rebirth. There is therefore here a real time, one when the snow begins to touch old stems covering future plants, and an ancestral time, one during which the miracle of life was just as inexplicable and mysterious as that of the alternating seasons.
There is also an inner time, in which everything becomes rarefied. If we neglect to reflect and want to understand at all costs, we can perceive what is barely perceptible and unfathomable around us, despite everything being there, like the very weak but real sound of a snowflake as it touches a cornstalk. Even the temporal setting of a late autumn evening contributes to meditation and immersion in the eternal becoming of everything.
The reference to the end of autumn also suggests a completely human and personal perception of reality: that phenomenon common in all people who, as they age, begin to feel both psychologically and physically every slight phenomenon that touches them as dilated, to suffer like a wound even the most imperceptible impact.
There could be an even deeper interpretation, referring to the symbolism attributed to snow as the gift of knowledge that can be bestowed by a teacher, especially when a disciple is not so advanced in conscious understanding and needs to be guided with a light hand. This then becomes a beautiful image: We arid stems, devoid of any fruit and tinsel, we can discard our ego and welcome true knowledge.
In the second verse, the ticking sound is very effective, while the whole reading has an alternating tone like the waving of snowflakes, and, overall, a persuasive and hypnotic modulation.
Radhamani Sarma focuses on the imagery:
This week’s haiku by John Wills highlights the pictorial image of cornstalks during the month November. Seasonal reference is not spring or summer but winter’s edge. The setting is evening, when it is getting darker with a chill wind and a pervasive gloominess.
With the continuation of the first line, “the faintest tick of snow,“ the poet envisions a scene in which the shape and position of snow figures. Season and snow; how? As a most feeble, invisible, filmy layer, almost melted or melting on cornstalks.
Another possible inference is that tall cornstalks are so high, positioned in such a way, that snow melts falling upon and merging with the layers, so faintly, its visibility is beyond perception.
Seasonal reference, timing and the resultant event depicted are portrayed in such a way that the image has a visual effect.
Peter Newton appreciates the fleeting moment:
What a lovely sound I had almost forgotten about. The faintest tick of snow striking the thin, dried and soon-to-be harvested corn. Deep autumn for sure. The mood has been set. The sound is almost hollow. A calling. A yearning. Maybe it means to imply that we gather what we can when we can. The sound of the snow striking the cornstalks is a commemoration, a ritual to all parties involved — the snow, the cornstalks and the poet noticing it. Each so fleeting and yet indelible in my memory.
As this week’s winner, Peter 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!
winter stillness leaves become their veins -- Peggy Willis Lyles, To Hear the Rain (2002)