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
filigree on leaf ... what is of what was — Priti Aisola, Under the Basho (2020)
For Avinder Kaur, light and shade reflect life:
Such an evocative poem! The first line evokes a clear visual that immediately flashes before the eyes, something that we have all seen often and marveled at its beauty each time. The poet draws the light and shade parallel through filigree, the art of intricate and delicate metalwork. The reader begins to think about the artist who is clearly the creator of the universe. You are presented with Nature at its artistic best. What else could soothe the ruffled nerves of a man who is battling so much in life in this virus-ridden world? A tiny little poem with so much word power brings you relief and reassurance at the same time. Though the pandemic is raging, there is still hope and there is a feeling that someone somewhere will protect you, no matter what. The chiaroscuro effect that “filigree” creates is beautiful and symbolic at the same time. The light and the shade are the twin aspects of life just like its joys and sorrows.
Lines two and three cause the reader to reflect upon the march of time and the transient nature of life. One is suddenly assured that nothing stays forever, good or bad, and that it is the present moment that takes precedence over everything else. The poet has made extremely astute use of words to create a poem that is precise, poignant and powerful at the same time.
Lakshmi Iyer catches a new world opening:
A totally different take! The poet’s love for art and its open workmanship reflects in the very first word, “filigree.” This decorative art intertwined with threads of gold and silver opens the door to a new world of sense and sensitivity. She has very artistically portrayed her sense of observation through this antique jewelry.
The sensitivity takes a leap in the first line, filigree leaf… What a beautiful juxtaposition! The poet has created a poignant image where the art of filigree is compared with a skeleton leaf whose beauty lies within itself, the greenery. Once the pigment starts to leave, the leaf is left with only the veins.
“what is of what was” — So poignant a picture of the leaf speaks its story. This is a cosmic call to all beings on earth that there is a beginning to the end, and an end to the beginning!
Alan Summers discovers something more:
The opening line eschews an article which makes us look harder. Is it really as simple as we might think? Why does it work instead of “correct grammar”:
filigree on a leaf
the filigree on a leaf
The terse, if not downright abrupt first line gives this reader something else to consider, beyond a pretty leaf in nature. We know leaves are famous for the fine tracery (filigree) during the autumn (leaf falling) season, and that a fine network of “veins” is revealed in the process; the stripped down bareness of a leaf in autumn is like hidden scaffolding, or a skeleton holding.
Filigree is also a well-known method of jewelry making, as well as a term for anything that is intricate, and decorative. The Polish language has the term filigranowy or filigranowa which, though it means “filigree,” is also used to describe people with a petite body.
We do not know for sure if the author and narrator are one and the same person, or if the author is just showing us the beauty of a leaf from a tree. Is it a piece of jewelry, or someone who was once thought of as delicate as filigree, but possibly no longer? Perhaps it’s all of that.
Let’s now look at the last part of the haikai verse which forms a phrase:
of what was
And if we now pull this into a single line:
“what is of what was”
Is the narrator fingering a filigreed replica leaf earrings, while staring into the mirror? Is she introspectively wondering if she is still the same wonderful woman as in her earlier years? Who or what would make her think about this, and even doubt herself? Is that the case with this haiku?
So what is there still of that time before, that previous “what was” era?
Interestingly, another type of super-fine filigree is vark, or varak (silver leaf), commonly used in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh for coating candies, almonds, cashews, dates, sugar balls, betel nuts, cardamom, and various other spices.
How we “coat” ourselves with various products, from layers of clothing, jewelry, perfume, cologne, hairstyling, just to appear outwardly “good enough” to be seen by the public, as well as close friends and family.
This eight word haikai verse looks deceptively simple, but for me, it’s unnervingly complex, and unsettling. Don’t many of us wonder “what is left” of “what was good in the past” in a number of ways?
That enjambment, the method of splitting lines, works unerringly well to deliver a psychological blow, which is one of many effective methods of a great poem.
As this week’s winner, Alan 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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sanderlings… a boy’s wind-up robot chases the surf — Jo Balistreri, bottle rockets #44 (2021)