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
receding tide a civilization of barnacles — Peter Newton, The Heron’s Nest , Vol. XXII No. 3 (2020)
Radhamani Sarma considers life on the edge:
Many thanks for giving us a poem delving into knowing more about barnacles and related issues such as oceanic borders. A re-reading of this senryu establishes a connectivity between barnacles and related aquatic beings and watery realms, living arthropods and also those in the process of being consumed. What a delectable insight into zoology; non-science students ought to know more about barnacles, their appropriate functions. Obviously, barnacles — sticky crustaceans that feed on plankton, algae and other small aquatic animals and sea detritus — breed in oceanic borders and shores. They are encrusters, attaching themselves temporarily to a hard substrate, including other hard-shelled animals. Barnacles eating on other creatures is an uncivilized act. In the first line, when tides and tidal waves recede, this barbarous eating, this merciless feeding comes to a halt.
Another speculation is that this feeding by barnacles undergoes only a temporary suspension; the subtle irony of “civilization” is implied.
Considering “receding tide” in the ebb and flow of the tide, we have to take only the receding tide backwards, when the act of being fed or swallowed or eaten by barnacles is defeated. Drifting water in full flow of rhyme does not allow this; hence, an act of civilization.
Lakshmi Iyer mulls over the small and large views:
Are we zooming out to a large picture of a civilization? The poet’s experience of the tides and the context and action are well defined here.
Line one, “receding tide,” leaves a tidemark on the beach that reminds us of its pending return; and every time it lashes and recedes, many of the eggs are washed ashore leaving them stranded on the rocks. But marine life never gives up. They survive changes between high and low tides that occur in the intertidal zone.
I liked the poet’s mention of the barnacles in line two. And what an expression — “a civilization of barnacles.” Isn’t this like going back to the time of Darwin and quoting “survival of the fittest”?
Barnacles prefer places with lots of activity, like underwater volcanos and intertidal zones, where they anchor themselves on sturdy objects like rocks, pilings, and buoys. They hold the seawater in their closed shells to keep from drying out during low tide. They can survive changes in temperature, moisture and salinity. Isn’t it beautiful, the way nature teaches them to live? That is why it is said, “Nature is our best teacher.” Hence, we see not a colony, but a whole civilization of barnacles with the receding waves.
Do we have the resilience to withstand a mental tide and stay in the same place like the rock? Can we stand to compete with these marine lives? A big lesson to learn; an image that can be drawn and visualized and also experienced!
As this week’s winner, Lakshmi 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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the ocean in a raindrop inside my womb a heart — Kala Ramesh, beyond the horizon beyond (2017)