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re:Virals 246

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

     Sundial shadow:
           a butterfly lands
                   and changes the time.
                        — Garry Gay, The Silent Garden (1982)

Radhamani Sarma notes a new ambiance:

The workings of a sundial, showing time by a shadow, is an ancient practice transmitted down through the ages, even in some remote hamlets, in some parts of developing villages.

In the first line, “sundial shadow,” time is marked and reflected by the shadow, allowing for a wider speculation, for more inference in contexts.

“a butterfly lands” continues into the third line, “and changes the time,” showing the vivid butterfly, not only as a colorful image but also as a transformer in Nature’s Time, i.e., the sundial, thus changing its time. The arrow in the sundial is hidden by the butterfly’s appearance as it lands, the butterfly being drawn towards the sun’s shadow, thereby effacing its real color or shadow or time.

Yet another possibility is that the butterfly could be construed as a poetic image representing a young, jubilant girl dancing around, so much so that when she lands by the shadow of the sundial, time is changed, the surroundings are changed with time, creating a new ambiance. This changes the color and patterns, transferring interface all in one sitting.

After all this, perhaps we see children playing with butterflies, spending their precious time.

For Mona Iordan, a fleeting moment is transformed:

When first reading this poem, I instantly knew I had to write about it. Thank you, Marietta, for sharing with us the choice of this little piece of jewelry. It is a poem of deep insight in its apparent simplicity.

The sundial in the first line is an ancient tool that allowed people to introduce a new dimension into their lives: Time. The rudimentary  instrument created from elements in their everyday world – a stone, a rod and the light of the sun – was rather inaccurate and altogether useless by night or when the sky was overcast. Yet, sundials have made Time perceptible and helped people put order in their experience and better understand the laws of the universe. It was a time when people would live in harmony with nature and its rhythms, and Time was patient with people. A far cry from our times when people try to master the Time enclosed in clocks and watches, all the while letting it rule over their lives.

Then, in the second line, a butterfly shows up. It could be the one that flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle and causes a storm in the Pacific, but this butterfly alights on the sundial. The fragile, airy creature wants to bask in the sun and, unknowingly, becomes the rod that casts another shadow onto the stone slab. And it changes Time. Spotting the butterfly, the poet marvels at the translucent colors its transparent wings take in the light of the sun. And Time changes. It may become relative, fleeting or slowing down, in harmony with human emotions and their rhythms. Sometimes, Time suspends altogether in such moments of grace, when beauty reveals itself – like genuine poetry.

Sanela Pliško zooms in on universal connections:

What I love about this haiku is the ambiguous message that is applicable to every level of everyday life. The sundial directs the reader to its narrow focus on the shadow. The presence of the shadow then implies the sun, the whole universe, which together form a miraculous correlation between the far distance of the sun all the way to a gentle butterfly; and consequently its power to change even something that is unchangeable – time. A great a-ha moment!

The security we feel, whether in our home, on the street, or in the car, depends on a fraction of a second that can change everything. Whether it is a phone call, a rude word, or an a-ha moment is completely irrelevant. A beautiful poem about fragility, about stating that everything in the universe is connected.

As this week’s winner, Sanela 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 247:

     solar eclipse. . .
     across a dandelion
     an ant
          — Dejan Pavlinović, Down the Milky Way (2016)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Reading through past posts – re:Virals 246:

    Sundial shadow:
    a butterfly lands
    and changes the time.
    — Garry Gay, The Silent Garden (1982)

    Although not strictly relevant to the scenario in the haiku, this brought back thoughts of the famous sci-fi short story by Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder,” 1952, which years ago made a big impact on this impressionable child scientist… Time travellers return to the present after an unplanned deviation from their carefully-plotted route in the past, to find that everything is different, including the outcome of a presidential election, where the victor is no longer Keith (alas!). One of the travellers finds a butterfly crushed by his boot, the death of which has set in motion a whole series of subsequent changes through time.

    It also reminded me of a more recent haiku by Roberta Beach Jacobson:

    stone sundial
    in city park
    robins at five and six

    Chrysanthemum Number 24
    October 2018

  2. I’ve never liked the idea of a butterfly being the symbol of the soul. Such a flimsy, fleeting life. That said, in the haiku by Garry Gay, where the presence of the butterfly (as a symbol of the soul) on the sundial changes the time has implications beyond hours, minutes and seconds. The perspective of time has been wholly altered.

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