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
you and me together yet apart — beads of a rosary — Tejinder Sethi, Uncharted Roads (2021)
Lakshmi Iyer parses the spaces between:
“you and me”
Who are they? Two friends, husband and wife, or God and His devotee? What is it that the poet wants to convey? Is it the togetherness she’s expecting in times of distress? The words of comfort and solace that can put down the curtains of negative forces? What is it?
To make the first line clearer, the poet gracefully shifts the image to the second line as “together yet apart.” She wants to protect the relationship and yet speak out loud!
you and me
together yet apart
Isn’t this a conversation with the Lord? Telling Him of the celebration of togetherness and yet being so far apart.
Why is that so? On further reading, it rings on me about the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe, the poet is getting restless with the surging virus and she’s finding it difficult to give a helping hand. The poet is anxious to have a friend in whom she can bury her depth of pain. Who else but the Lord! And the rightful means to complete this wholesomeness is found in the beads of prayer!
The poet’s admiration for subtlety and purity is revealed in the final layer of the haiku: “beads of a rosary” — the soulful and humble object of the entire haiku. A beautiful juxtaposition! Her daily prayers through the beads’ count becomes her only refuge. There is so much of profound truth in the beads of a rosary that are so close, yet apart. The space or ma lifts up the whole concept of this wonderful revelation.
The soul of the poem lies in the poet’s confession to the readers of what’s going through her mind. There is tranquility and originality in between the beads of a rosary. The gaps speak of all the past and present — what was surpassed and what’s going on now.
A universal poem!
A poignant poem!
Kala Ramesh homes in on the sabi:
I remember my grandmother constantly rolling the beads of her rosary, counting 108 times before she put it aside, only to pick it up again! In Hinduism it’s called the japa mala. Because I am familiar with these beads, I was drawn to write an analysis of this poignant senryu.
For me, the most striking haikai aesthetic nuance in this poem is sabi. Apart from rust and patina, sabi also signifies loneliness, solitude, age and insight.
I take the rosary to represent a family. And perhaps “you and me” refers to a couple. In a marriage, it’s rare for both partners to have the same idea of what wedlock means. I see here a tinge of resentment, not blind acceptance — for lines one and two say “you and me together yet apart.”
“Apart” is such an abstract word. How can anyone calculate the distance between two people who are together yet apart? Line three comes with a message: The state of being apart is like the prayer beads — each bead is separate, having its own identity and not leaning on the others; each is on its own, on a journey unknown to the others.
Sabi here suggests loneliness and the inevitable wear and tear that become a patina — the scabs that highlight life’s experiences.
I don’t know if this poem is meant to suggest that this arrangement was accepted willingly, nor if it constitutes what the narrator dreamed of when she was young, romantic and unmarried. The senryu leads me to muse that marriage with compatibility and a spirit of togetherness can be lovely, but things rarely turn out that way.
About marriage, Khalil Gibran has this to say:And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
It’s a beautiful thought, and it’s easy to read about such perfect arrangements and codes of conduct, but doesn’t it appear as mere poetry — idyllic, impractical and improbable — when it concerns two living people with their distinctive egos and varying needs for intimacy?
“You and me/ together yet apart” — the distance between them may be growing into an abyss, and the “beads of a rosary” may represent each passing year of solitude and loneliness. Here, old wine definitely doesn’t seem to taste as good.
As this week’s winner, Kala 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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horse pasture the prairie wind moves with muscle — Chad Lee Robinson, The Heron's Nest, Vol. XXII, No. 4 (2020)