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
cold moon — a moment of hesitation years ago — John Stevenson, The Heron's Nest, Volume VIII, Number 4 (2006)
Lakshmi Iyer begins with the phases of the moon:
After coming to haikai, I have found how we personify the moon. Sometimes it is cold, gibbous, waning, waxing, gossamer, strained, etc. I’ve wondered why we always target the moon in all our experience. Maybe the sun, the moon and the stars are heavenly planets that have their own identity and we respect them from our hearts.
Here, the poet has juxtaposed the fragment and phrase so well: “a moment of hesitation/ years ago.” Yes, sometimes our wishes remain unsaid, unfulfilled, halfmasked, on our lips, and we are unable to convey them, even when the moon is said to be cold. I wonder: Who was the poet referring to? Whomever it was directed to, on the whole, the poet’s message has reached his readers. Hesitation is a very peculiar thing. Even the brightest prospects are lost, even the slightest step is missed. Fortunes are lost, peace is lost. Hesitation can change even the ball in the court.
Let’s start our lives with the sweetest thing: to be bold and brave!
Keith Evetts ruminates on the workings within the image:
At first sight, this is an innocuous little verse with a single visual image and a thought, a memory. How does it work? The image “cold moon” in the first line is well-worn in the genre: The moon by itself is by convention a kigo or season word for autumn, and a cold or winter moon for winter. Haiku are about the present moment, but the memory in lines two and three is placed firmly in the past. It is the contemplation of the cold moon that is in the present. Now the symbolism gets to work. This is, by association, the closing season of the author’s years. The moon in its beauty is strongly associated with the mysteries and attractions of love; the choice of “cold” (instead of plain “winter”) induces a disconsolate feeling of sadness, melancholy, loss, regret, all in just two words.
The author does not tell us exactly what was that past moment of hesitation that the moon has brought to mind, nor what were the consequences. Clearly, in hindsight it turned out to be of significance, and it is sensitive and personal to himself alone. Probably a hesitance, a shyness, a doubt, an indecision, on which a love affair turned. Or it could be a vacillation over which career to choose, some attractive “road not taken.” Readers are left, as they should be, to complete the story for themselves. It will be their own story. I suspect that most of us have at least one memory of a moment of hesitation or doubt that turned out crucially to have changed the course of a love, a life. I know I have — and more than one — but I’m not about to say. Reading this haiku unlocks them.
Sushama Kapur is caught in a moment:
The balance in the structure of this poem is amazing! Two words begin, two end, with the sum of the two — four — in the middle. But what is even more incredible is how both “cold moon” (with its pause) and “years ago” are about distance in time and space. And in between these two far away things is this moment: a soft tentative moment — of hesitation.
So, what exactly are we talking about? A relationship? In trying to decipher, we read the offering of words again and are caught by the beauty of “cold moon”! Why does this incredibly spectacular phase of the moon, coming as it does in winter months, remind the poet of his moment of hesitation years ago? Was it because it happened with “cold moon” as witness? Or does the “cold moon” remind the poet of someone beautiful and distant (cold)? Whatever the answers are, the moment certainly seems to be entrenched in his memory even today!
What is left unsaid in the second image also looms large. What if there had been no hesitation? How would things be then? Would it be a life changing moment?
The feeling in the lines seems to be one of sadness, regret, perhaps even anguish. And we empathize fully, caught as we are in this moment ourselves.
In the end, we are left wondering and reflecting — and intrigued in the realm of infinite possibilities!
As this week’s winner, Sushama 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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midwinter the emptiness of acorn caps — Bryan Rickert, Wales Haiku Journal (2021)