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re:Virals 311

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

     a handful of rice
     at the end of the day —
     harvest moon
          — Geetanjali Rajan, The Mainichi (2017)

Alan Summers recalls a famous poem:

Sometimes what is needed is a simple meal and an appreciation of the moon. This has a very Chinese poetic feel to it, and reminds me of this children’s favorite!



mǐn nóng

chú hé rì dāng wǔ,
hàn dī hé xià tǔ,
shuí zhī pán zhōngcān,
lì lì jiē xīnkǔ!

Pity for the Peasants

At noon tilling the fields
sweat drips into the soil,
who knew our food
was such hard work!

English version by Alan Summers

It was written during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and not by Tu Fu or Li Po but by Li Shen (a Mandarin court official and sometime poet of the 9th century).

A simple but beautiful homely autumn haiku, that reminds me of the old Chinese poem!

For Lakshmi Iyer, it’s about abundance:

Going straight to the third line — “harvest moon” — I would like to appreciate how the poet summarizes the first two lines with the em dash, emphasising the moon.

Let’s learn about the harvest moon and understand the value of a hard day’s work: The harvest moon relates to the timing of the autumnal equinox. It’s the full moon that occurs nearest the equinox, being closest to harvest time. This means that the harvest moon can occur in either September or October. The name dates from the time before electricity when farmers depended on the moon’s light to help them harvest their crops late into the night. This abundance of bright moonlight early in the evening is a traditional aid to farmers. The primary objective is to restore and maintain a farm that has fallen into disrepair.

The effort of farmers is paid at the end of the day: “a handful of rice” is an in-depth image that points to the relationship between landlords and laborers. The vertical axis delves deeper into the bundle of rice and financial aid that the farmers expect to get after a long, hard harvest. This is about plenitude, about the struggle to live, about the little things in life that they, too, want to enjoy despite all odds. It also draws a clear image of the close of a season into the opening of another long day.

At the end of the day, isn’t it what we long for? A peaceful and happy way of life!

Radhamani Sarma detects a note of optimism:

This poem by Geetanjali Rajan conveys a rich sense of optimism in the mindset of readers. Sailing with the harvest moon, we see not merely a cool setting and beauty represented as a round shape embedded in it, but something more.

The first line — a handful of rice — is associated with reaping, growth and prosperity; the yield has a connection with the harvest season and the moon. When evening falls, the sight of the harvest moon provides a hint of augury, a lucky sign of more and more yield. Inhabitants and villagers, well versed in reaping, go and plunge into the harvest. The act of reaping rice, corn and wheat is synonymous with the beginning of the fruits of labor and prosperity, hence “a handful of rice.” Reaping and binding augurs more and more for all involved in the field. The sun, stars and moon play a big role in human astrology, human lives. There are further prospects: for the hungry soul, for a hungry stomach, for hungry mouths, always a handful will suffice.

As this week’s winner, Radhamani 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!

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.

re:Virals 312:

     my shortcomings
     i bake pizza for him
     with a new recipe
          — Lucia Fontana, HaikUniverse (2021)

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Dear Alan,

    Thank you for the poem by Li Po. And truly appreciate your comment on the simple meal and the moon.
    Where I live, we have 2 or even 3 harvests a year – but the one in this, is the one nearer Onam or the harvest moon in Autumn – times itself pretty neatly too. Earlier, when I was a child (oh my, when was that?) the people on the farm were paid in grain (not cash) – that image too found its way into the poem.
    Thanks again for the Chinese poem – it is beautiful.


  2. Thank you for choosing this poem, Lakshmi and for your detailed analysis. truly grateful!


  3. To
    Alan Summers
    Greetings. Dear esteemed poet,
    Thanks for mentioning us of Chinese poetic feel; also for the quote,
    Very simple, yet practical observation, in tune with the write.

    Pity for the Peasants

    At noon tilling the fields
    sweat drips into the soil,
    who knew our food
    was such hard work!

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