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
prayer call— the cry of a lost calf at twilight — Sanjuktaa Asopa, The Daily Haiku (2013)
Lakshmi Iyer zooms in on the images:
This minimalist poem has absolute sincerity in the phrasing of the image that is universally bound to the creation at large.
Line one emphasizes the significance of prayers. Here, “prayer call” draws our attention to the muezzin’s call that is usually heard at twilight. What a beautiful juxtaposition between two images, or maybe I should call it “zooming in.” It is beautifully embedded with lines two and three, “the cry of a lost calf/ at twilight.”
Twilight is that hour when most of us return home. Even the cattle find their way back home without the cowherd; their biological clock makes them do so. In that moment, a calf suddenly finds herself lost. And her only way to make herself known is “her cry.” Is that to the Lord or to the world? Both ways, she speaks her voice through the prayer call!
We cannot blame children for that which they are not much used to. We can always take that extra care, caution them, and advise. Cows do that perfectly well. Sometimes, the crowd of the herd diverts their attention, but their strength is remarkable. After all, they have their own sense that allows them to understand nature around them.
The poet has magically woven her ‘ku with sensory and spiritual elements.
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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Zen garden the monk dips his toe into himself — Joe Sebastian, The Mainichi (2021)
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Joe Sebastian’s haiku seems to have caught its subject in a non-Zen moment.
Line one sets its scene, a minimalist setting of rock, gravel, sand, and wood intended as a place for meditation. Line two begins to disrupt the reader’s expectations with the monk shown ‘dip[ping] his toe’. Into what, is the question. Water, the likely answer. But is it likely? No.
As many readers will be aware, for over a thousand years, traditional Zen gardens have excluded water. From the eighth century, many components formally associated with gardens of meditation were gradually replaced by dry rock landscapes where Zen monks drew undulating patterns on sand to represent the movement of streams. So, is the monk about to dip his toe into an imagined stream or pond? Again, no.
We take a metaphysical step to the right as the monk dips his toe ‘into himself’. The reader may smile at the imagined difficulty of this philosophical contortion. And then wonder about the appropriateness of this introspection.
Zen Buddhism proposes that the concept of self is a construct, a fiction. The universe is in a constant state of transformation and fixed ego states do not exist.
So where does this leave the monk? Caught in a non-Zen moment. A small straying from the path, the dipping of a toe. The haiku’s playful tone may suggest the Zen Buddhist acceptance of failure as we move toward the attainment of wisdom.
The haiku by Joe Sebastian, “Zen garden/the monk dips his toe/into himself.”
I like it because it’s so shocking, so startling, it short-circuits my analytic mind. In the first two lines my mind is moving along easily then it hits the third line like a stone wall. That’s the Zen moment, when the mind short-circuits. We need more of these moments to balance our lives. Of course we need the analytical mind, but we also are in desperate need of the zen mind. The third line allows the reader to experience this balance. Very nice, indeed!
Thanks so much Sushama Kapur for choosing one of my poems and Lakshmi for your in-depth and beautiful interpretation. It’s been a long time, but if I remember correctly, I just wrote as it came to me and never thought of analysing it. Thanks to you for thinking it worthy of attention and adding another dimension to it.
Thanks to you too Radhamani Sarma _/\_
Thank you so much, Sanjuktaa. I just wrote what I felt. Felt happy you liked it.
Thanks to Haiku Foundation for giving us a haiku reflecting prayer
at once, and some pathetic cry of calf . Two contrasting descriptive elements described here.
The first line, “ prayer call” – obviously denotes, prayer sessions conducted
many a time a day. In the following stanza, cruel, merciless custom
of slaughter of cow prevalent then, is hinted. Obviously, during evening (twilight) the merciless ritual of calf either slaughtered or lost somewhere, hiding, .is mentioned.
Sanjuktaa Asioa, in a very subtle way, hints at the irony, time, the very purport, meaning of prayer is lost, defeated, when one sees, the calf bleeding,
brutally killed as a completion of ceremony here.
Twilight time, the innocence either for meat or for sacrificial ire, mercilessly
Sacrificed all in simultaneously at prayer call is adumbrated.
One can also interpret, the sounds / the prayer calls, as opposed to the young
dead/dying/ or in process of slaughter .
Yet another viable inference is father or mother out of sheer agony or despair, in the prayer hall soliciting for the welfare and safety or redemption of the child from throes of death pangs; the other side, child( here possibly the lost calf) is nowhere. All prayers are in vain.
contrast in sound system -call/cry/ is effectually portrayed.
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