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re:Virals 240

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

     climb this tree
     and you'll be a she-devil —
     red leaves in this sunset glow
          — Mitsuhashi Takajo (1899-1972) (translated by Makoto Ueda)

Betty Shropshire finds a strong message:

For me, this speaks universally to strong women everywhere: to those who have sought to break the glass ceiling, to those who have sought equal status, only to be labeled a “bitch” or worse for daring to grasp the brass ring, if you will, in this man’s world. And yet, she persists.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă intuits a vivid narrative:

The poem emits a demonic atmosphere. Someone is instructed or advised to climb a tree. We do not know what species it is, but it could be a Japanese maple. Following this action would be a metamorphosis — the woman could become a she-devil. Anyone reading this might ask themselves the following question: What exactly causes a woman to want something that is under the sign of a (d)evil?

We can speculate on the image of a cruel woman whose bad temper or evil ways are so extreme they could bring her some benefits. How terrible this sounds!

For example, it would help her to overcome a difficult situation (a disease, a broken relationship) to take revenge on something or someone, or maybe she just wants to know that hidden demonic side, to see how it is, but without using the power that can be devastating to others.

Further, we can think that we are dealing with a woman who is not quite physically attractive, who is not successful with men, and that explains her desire to become a she-devil — a very attractive female who is capable of manipulating men to get her way.

It is only at the end of the poem that we find out that everything is happening against the backdrop of the beautiful image of red leaves caught in the sunset.

A woman sees what she carries in her heart. If it is broken, then she may see only demons. The story behind these lines turns this ku into a memorable one that reminds me of Faust’s drama and the path of true repentance.

Radhamani Sarma encounters a colorful transformation:

The first line of this haiku by Japanese poet Mitsuhashi Takajo distinctly pictures a particular tree, taking us closer to the spot and propelling the spectator to “climb.”

The second line conjures an image of a she-devil in our mind’s eye. A  woman or girl addressed as “you” will be transformed into a she-devil. The question is, “Why or how?” Maybe it’s a ghastly or ghostly face with disheveled hair, with a frightening look.

Connectivity is established in the third line. “red leaves in this sunset glow” could be the natural color of red leaves, or that of a fall evening during sunset with the sequential glow of the sun on the leaves, hence a reflection of red on “her,” in addition to the tree, transforming her into a she-devil.

The trio of the treetop, the girl or woman, and the sunset glow all entwine in this beautiful haiku. The bright red color leads on to the central element.

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 241:

     her face
     in my whisky
     the moon floats  
          — Chen-ou Liu, Grand Prix, 7th Klostar Ivanic Haiku Contest (2010)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This poem seems almost mythic to me, but I particularly love Betty Shropshire’s very modern take-away from the poem. It may have been meant as a warning, but strong women of any age in any culture take that warning as a challenge. If only we could become she-devils and wreak havoc on those who would destroy us and our children and our happiness! Just reading the poem gives me a power surge and fills me with Attitude, with a capital A! Unite she-devils! Toss your red hair in the sunset glow and climb that tree! That is the power of poetry!

    1. I agree, Peggy! This haiku was written by a woman, and I like to think of it not as a warning but as a poetic suggestion of how a woman can take power for herself: climb the tree with red leaves in the red glow of sunset, and the red light will make her look (and thus feel) like a she-devil. The concept of becoming a she-devil is not negative or a reference to evil at all—it’s encouraging a woman to find her own power by putting on the mask of a powerful female being and seeing how it feels: “I am woman, hear me roar!”

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