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
reflective mood I loosen the lid of a firefly jar — Vandana Parashar, Asahi Haikuist Network (2018)
Lakshmi Iyer follows an experiment:
Opening the room of contemplation, I find the poet in a “reflective mood,” trying to analyze and evaluate her actions. Line one boldly states this as her experiential learning; to think about what she did, what happened and decide to do it differently.
That’s when the poet “loosens the lid of a firefly jar.”
Why the “firefly jar”? Fireflies represents an exceptional human being. It shines from the inside out as if it were liberating interior beauty like human beings.
Isn’t it true? After much quiet thought, the poet finally decides to lead a more environmentally conscious life. She loosens the lid of the jar to allow the damp air to flow in or release the fireflies.
At last! Some relief to the mind and soul. The reflective mood is well personified with the fireflies and the use of “I” positioned to offer solace to her actions.
A deep and resonating thought.
Alan Summers marvels:
The number of various kinds of national and international emergencies is currently growing, and war and politics are becoming dangerously outmoded.
Sometimes we need to be still, for a moment, and rather than let the Jack get out of his box, as in a Jack-in-the-box, let a little light enter the world. Let’s just loosen the lid of a metaphorical firefly jar, and quietly marvel.
The repeated “o” letters remind me of the mouth of the jar itself and also of the “o” of wonder on the person, too. The subtle alliteration of the letter “f” through “reflective” to “f”ire“f”ly and even the word “jar” takes me back to the “o” letters and the “o” shape of the author’s mouth as it quietly says “aaaaah” as an exhalation and exultation.
Sushama Kapur encounters beauty and metaphor:
Picking up this fragile haiku from the space that surrounds it, and holding it up to light, its ethereal beauty shines out. Turning it round and round, see how light glints through chinks of the loosened lid?
I look anew at the words, and lingering on their nuances, the choices the poet has made leap to the eye. For example, the word “reflective,” meaning pensive, evaluative almost meditative. Being in such a state is not uncommon. But why is she reflective at this moment? We don’t know. Perhaps she wants to find out something? Possibly, because her next action is loosening her firefly jar. Note the use of the verb, “loosen” here.
And the choice of a “firefly jar”! There’s something almost magical about these creatures that most would find fascinating.
However, could we take the existence of such a jar literally? It’s a little rare for anyone to keep a firefly jar, unless the person is a zoologist or a researcher or a child collector or… So then, is it possible it has been used here as a metaphor for human imagination? Perhaps with its help she might be able to resolve something. What is very interesting is that she only loosens the jar. It seems like she doesn’t want what is inside to be free to fly out. Maybe she wants to harness the magic of these lightening bugs, so she can reach that place of answers she’s looking for.
At this point, it is left to our imagination and our reverie to forever be in a place of possibilities. While trying to decipher the why of its appeal, perhaps the poem slips away into the realm of mystery, so that it can be revisited again and again for rumination and solace. And then for a little while, we can be in the presence of a jarful of magic.
Priti Aisola catches a glimpse of the ephemeral:
This ‘ku begins on a quiet, contemplative note: “reflective mood.” What is the narrator thoughtful about? Something that happened during the course of her day or something in the recent past? Then comes the phrase in lines two and three: “I loosen the lid/ of a firefly jar.” The reader pauses briefly after line two and asks slightly puzzled: “loosen the lid” of what? The revelation of “firefly jar” takes the reader by surprise. What interested me, as a reader, was also the use of the word “loosen” instead of “open,” as if there is a “reflective” preparation for some decision or action that will follow. Then I tried to visualize and recreate the sequence of events in order to catch a glimpse of the realization that may have led to the narrator’s “reflective mood.”
We know that fireflies have a short lifespan. Though from egg to adult, fireflies typically live for about a year, they are capable of flying and laying eggs for roughly two months. After capturing the fireflies and trapping them in a jar, the narrator or poet must have realized how unfair it is to bottle small, frail life forms, even for a day, for one’s selfish pleasure. That it is far better to release them into the wild and enjoy their intermittent, patterned flashes of light in their own habitat. That the splendid display in the dark of glowing spots of flashing tiny lights is far better than a constrained, limited show in a jar. However, before the actual release of the fireflies, the thoughtful process of release has to be initiated by loosening the lid of the jar.
This is a very poignant and profound ‘ku with a message about how one should relate to other forms of life and recognize even the frailest life’s instinct to live as it is accustomed to living. Also, one is subtly made aware that for one’s short-lived pleasure or amusement, one cannot make captive any being, though it may be only for a brief while. One recognizes how parochial and self-centred one’s pleasure is, especially if it is dependent on restraining the liberty of another life form; how if one pauses to reflect, one can easily renounce this pleasure. And do the most gracious thing: live and let live.
Keith Evetts captures the reflections:
Among the things that fireflies symbolize, apart from being a mid-summer kigo, are the flame of love or passion, and the souls of the dying or dead, particularly in war. When fireflies were plentiful, the Japanese liked to catch them and keep them (particularly to amuse children). So here we have fireflies captive in a jar, and if they are emitting light, that may — at a stretch — be reflected in the glass. The writer is thinking of opening the jar to release them — but has not yet done so; merely started to loosen the lid, then is reflecting.
On the simplest level, this haiku can be taken as releasing captive insects out of sympathy for their being alive with us and for their beauty in flying free. But on other levels: What is it we release when we let love, or souls, or war out of captivity? What will their effects on us be? The reader is invited to consider this potential Pandora’s Box of pleasure or pain. Indeed, perhaps a weakness in this poem, we are pretty well told to reflect on it, or that the author is reflecting on it. In releasing the fireflies, they become uncontrolled — love and war. Hence the hesitation.
As this week’s winner, Keith 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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receding tide a civilization of barnacles — Peter Newton, The Heron’s Nest , Vol. XXII No. 3 (2020)