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
Vedic chants . . . a heron glides to a rock in the misty lake — K. Ramesh, The Heron's Nest, Vol. 10, No. 2 (2008)
Radhamani Sarma discovers calm among the resonance:
I’m very much imbibing a positive aura with the first note, “Vedic chants….” January, the beginning of the new year, starts with Vedic chants, mantra and recitations by pundits in all temples, from TV channels, echoes of all kinds, from different directions vibranting through the air. This haiku resonates and proves well the fine observation of K. Ramesh who has combined the rhythm of Vedic chants with the reaction of a heron.
Vedic chants are not mere recitals, but renditions with the proper intonation, pronunciation and accentuated sound syllables. In fact, Vedas are supposed to be recitals of rishis and sages heard from above; such is the power.
The very first line, “Vedic Chants…” being heard somewhere, perhaps nearby, mixes eloquently with the fluid notes. Or even pundits, knee deep in water, may be performing rituals, ablutions, or paying respect for departed souls, and are one with the water’s ripples and gurgles while their chanting goes on. Where does the situation lead? Not chanting along, nor reciting together, nor even silent participation or note taking, but a shift to a different place; that of a strange reaction from a wading bird:
a heron glides to a rock
In the misty lake
All the while brooding, staying calm, observing in and around the lake, the heron slowly glides to a mound or rocky position. This signifies its state of fear, being disturbed, or becoming panicky. The heron may be swallowed by a fear of being caught, by these noisy humans. Perhaps it prefers to be on a higher mound, a rock to escape or have a better view of the humans. The shift from water to rock is self-explanatory for the heron. Again, a contrast from humans to a non-human place: the rock in the lake itself.
But then the question arises: Why a misty lake? One possible inference is that water becomes thickened by rice balls, or grass, or even tilled seeds – things always associated with rituals. The heron also prefers to stay calm in clear water, away from such disturbing effects around it, viewing the calm in the lake.
Lakshmi Iyer discerns a blending of mind and image:
Reading this beautiful haiku takes me to the Vivekananda Rock at Kanyakumari, India, where Swami Vivekananda attained his enlightenment, whilst meditating on this stone. What a poignant haiku!
Coming to line one, “vedic chants,” takes me to the Brahma Muhurt (the early morning hours, approximately between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.), which is said to be the best time to chant the Aumkaar, the Pranava Mantra, and the Vedas. I believe the poet is used to getting up early to have placed a significant image in line one.
The kire is shown after the first line with the kireji, the ellipsis. By using the ellipsis, the poet brilliantly states a relationship between the two images, line one with line two continuing up to line three.
What is the relationship?
Line two reads:
a heron glides to a rock
in the misty lake
The mist usually stays in the lake in the early hours, and what a special moment to see the heron gliding onto a rock, the time when the poet, too, awakens. Isn’t this image preparing the poet to contemplate on his morning meditation?
The heron signifies the mind; the rock, an asana, and a place to sit and seek peace; and the misty lake, a dwelling place of this samsara (wordly pleasures).
The poet uses his medium of Vedic chants to bend his body (gliding) and mend his mind.
Finally, this is a story magnifying the subtleties of the universe; to have peace, love and care.
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă notes an intertwining::
This is a poem in which the visual and the auditory are intertwined in a texture that highlights the beauty of the captured moment.
The “Vedic chants” presuppose the presence of a group of people singing in unison, glorifying God. The image of the bird gliding to the rock seems to convey to us the idea that the heron, maybe exhausted, is attracted by the song that reverberates over the lake and wants to take a proper spot in order to enjoy the serene atmosphere.
As a symbol, the heron probably shows us how to become comfortable in uncertain situations and to follow our path and not those of our peers.
In addition, if the religious song is considered “spiritual fire,” then it is interesting to note in the poem the presence of the four fundamental elements that emphasize the idea of harmony. People purify themselves through song, and the bird, like a messenger of God — why not an angel — looks like a late spectator who comes to recharge his batteries.
Besides, the suspension points can be interpreted as the musical notes that propagate in the ether, and the liquid consonants in the second part simply suggest the difficult advance of the bird through the mist.
The poem, in its entirety, expresses the idea of spiritual connection with nature, of enlightenment, of exploring self-consciousness.
Marion Clarke links the sensory with the contemplative:
Because chanting is an oral practice, the first line of K. Ramesh’s poem immediately filled this haiku with sound. As chanting is a spiritual discipline, raising the practitioner to a higher level of consciousness, I felt the appearance of the heron was almost in response to it. Perhaps the chant is in praise of nature and the heron is like a sign from the gods.
The large bird gliding down in total silence is in direct contrast with the sound of chanting, and the fact that it descends to settle on a misty lake is an ethereal image. Is this a real heron, or perhaps it is an imagined bird from literature. In any case, the combination of sound and visuals in this poem is haunting and beautiful.
As this week’s winner, Marion 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!
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uncoupling… row upon row of fiddleheads — Jan Benson, tinywords, Issue 19.1 (2019)