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re:Virals 32

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

     when the river is as slow
     as the night
          — Burnell Lippy, The Heron's Nest XVIII.1 (2016)

Jo McInerney:

Honeysuckle is a beautiful name. The plant itself has all the loveliness of its heady fragrance and pale yellow flowers, a physical reality that fits so well with the sweetness of “honey” and the soft, savouring suggestiveness of “suckle”. I wonder whether Ariel were really inhaling the scent of honeysuckle rather than cowslips when he sang “Where the bee sucks, there suck I.”

“Honeysuckle” brings this perfume to the opening of Lippy’s haiku, given proper prominence by occupying all of line one. The next two lines compliment the opening image. This fragrance hangs over a slow-flowing river, a river in its later stages, no longer making the sudden sallies Tennyson describes in its upper reaches, but meandering toward the sea.

And further, the river “is as slow / as the night”. This is a lovely simile which is more than merely a comparison; it has the languid river flowing through perfumed dark. There is something about night which intensifies scent; perhaps it is merely that we have no visual distractions to divert us from the smell. Perhaps too some flowers give out stronger scents to attractive night-flying insects. And here we have the sweetness further heightened by being borne on the still, moist air above the barely moving water.

To round out this description of a locale and its beautiful mesh of associations the slow movement of the water suggests the sweet, thick trickle of honey, a river of honey carrying its fragrance through the dark air.


As this week’s winner, Jo gets to choose next week’s poem, but as she didn’t supply one, we have selected one for her, 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!

re:Virals 32:

     your hair drawn back
     the sharp taste of radishes
          — M. Kettner, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (2013)
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