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
between knowing and unknowing snow — Michele Root-Bernstein, Frogpond, Volume 32:1 (2009)
Radhamani Sarma finds a secret to be unraveled:
Delighted to comment upon the write by Michele Root-Bernstein, on a general topic that extends beyond an image of snow.
The personae are probably in the course of a discussion about unraveling a secret, a detective plot or a crime, and while they are clueless, the case goes on blinding them all. “unknowing” indicates that facts and figures are yet to be culled out or are beyond their knowledge. The block or barrier is snow, which blurs their vision.
It could also mean an artist’s point of view upon seeing some art, or graphics, and not being able to figure It out, hence snow. Snow acts not only as an agent of finality, but also a blur, a barrier. We should carefully observe that the speaker does not use the phrase “seeing and unseeing”; only “knowing and unknowing.” Hence, it is all perception which is marred by snow.
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă explores aspects of knowing yet not knowing:
This simple but very profound haiku reminds me of the Socratic paradox, “I know that I know nothing,” and at the same time, paraphrasing Hamlet, the famous Shakespearean character, “I wonder: knowing or unknowing? That is the question.”
According to the Skeptics, in the epistemic context, it is inappropriate to give someone knowledge, maybe because of its destructive force. We are conscious that knowledge means evolution, power, domination. On the other hand it can harm mankind, can lead people to their perdition, to collapse. The major problem nowadays is that the more we know, the more we have the impression that we do not know enough and we continue to research, ignoring the consequences. Access to all kinds of information generates chaos and triggers all sorts of conspiracy theories. The pandemic of these times proves how little we know, that we cannot control everything, that we are weak and unprepared. Thus, the modern man loses the connection with immediate reality, loses his essential landmark. As a result, values are turned upside down and he ends up suffering from alienation.
If we look at the problem from another angle, knowing by not-knowing is not only a vital phase of cognitive neurodynamics, it is also a potent heuristic for heightened creativity. This paradoxical stance of unknowing extracts strength from imperceptible attractions-interactions of poetic, noetic and somatic ways of knowing.
But let us return to the ku’s structure, whose relevant elements are the preposition in the first line and the noun in the last line, which indicates we have a winter kigo. The preposition indicates the hesitant attitude, the meditation, the oscillation between abstract notions, which seem to burden the poet’s thoughts. Snow refers to the beauty of the fresh concreteness, of the immediate reality, which can provide a lot of solutions only if you have the ability to observe. At the same time, the snow implicitly suggests the passage of time, the impermanence of nature, but just as well, through its brightness, it can be interpreted as an epiphany bringing energy: The ancient philosophy of the Tao, a pathless path to enlightenment that, like processes in the natural world, proceeds without being asked, and mindlessly.
Terri French encounters a fresh approach:
What I find most interesting about this poem is that Michele did not say “between knowing and forgetting,” but “between knowing and unknowing.” If you forget something there is always the possibility of retrieval, is there not? I mean, the memory of the thing known is up there floating in the hippocampus somewhere waiting for the right trigger to pull it out of hiding. But, to “unknow” something to me speaks of total eraser, a clean slate, a fresh start, an opportunity to experience something once known in a new way. The snow represents that freshness, that newness, that chance to begin again. A beautiful haiku that says so much.
As this week’s winner, Terri 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!
brush strokes — the mother I’ll never be — Kirsten Cliff, Issa’s Untidy Hut, 40 (2011)