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
owl call a blood moon sailing through the vole’s eye — John Hawkhead, The Blo͞o Outlier Journal, Issue #1 (2020)
Alan Summers focuses on the effect:
This feels very much like a Gothic haiku with a blood moon sailing across a small mammal’s ocular orbit. It also comes across as a filmic editing technique, such as a cutaway, or even The “Iris Wipe” often used in silent movies by Buster Keaton, or cartoons, or even a Terry Gilliam film.
This is not a case of walking into the sunset though, but deep into twilight. The “Iris Wipe” editing technique, in this case, is the sun long gone, where twilight becomes a round and ever diminishing circular moment. The protagonists make their moves into deeper twilight. Will their paths finally and fatally meet? I’d like to know the vole’s story, too.
Lakshmi Iyer notes the signal:
An owl’s call is a signal to all the rodents that danger is lurking nearby and that he is the ruler of the night!
A beautiful juxtaposition with the blood moon, distinctive among all the prophesies that speak of death in the dark night, especially during a lunar eclipse.
A blood moon occurs when Earth’s moon is in a total lunar eclipse. While it has no special astronomical significance, the view in the sky is striking as the usually whitish moon becomes red or ruddy-brown.
And what a striking image to say:
blood moon sailing
through the vole’s eye
The poet has woven so many images:
the movement of the passing clouds
the feeling of the blood moon sailing
the vole looking up as the owl hoots
and the moon passing through its eyes
All of this gives us the feeling of a dark night, and a frightful one, too.
The food cycle of every living being is the most important phenomenon. Here, the voles are eaten by the owls; hence, they need to be extra careful while coming out at dusk or the dark of night. In spite of the signal of the owl, they succumb. And during a lunar eclipse, there are chances of being trapped. The moonlight offers a white light whereas a blood moon is dark brown.
The owl’s call is the intuition in human beings that sometimes helps us to be extra careful. It gives us a green signal that helps us to make the correct decision. And yet, when we go against the orange signal, we are trapped in the red.
A well balanced and portrayed haiku!
Florin C. Ciobica senses something sinister:
In some cultural spaces, an owl’s hooting is associated with the idea of death. More precisely, if you hear an owl hooting, it means that someone close to you is about to die. Sinister, isn’t it?
The image of the blood moon reflected in the vole’s eyes seems to convey to us that the rodent no longer has much to live for, that his moments are numbered.
At the phonetic level, the combination of certain sounds provides subliminal details. Thus, the consonant “l” emphasizes both the propagation of the owl’s call and the sailing of the moon. Likewise, the vowels “a” and “o” highlight the magnitude of the space described, the reverberation of the sounds emitted by the nocturnal bird.
All in all, the poem attracts you through the ominous atmosphere, through the seal of death drawn by the moon, through empathy towards the little animal. After reading and rereading this haiku, I simply looked at my hands to see if they were stained with blood.
As this week’s winner, Florin 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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pulse monitor the exhausted curve flattens — Ravi Kiran, World Haiku Review (2021)