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
varied thrush between notes the unwavering light — Jeff Hoagland, tinywords 20.1 (2020)
Keith Evetts offers a medley of thoughts:
The thrush is surely among the top ten songbirds. In English poetry, the song thrush was immortalized by Thomas Hardy in his moving poem, “The Darkling Thrush”; also by Browning in “Home Thoughts From Abroad”: “Oh to be in England. . . he sings each song twice over, Lest you should think he never could recapture, The first fine careless rapture!” George Orwell, in 1984, refers to a song thrush that enhances Julia and Winston’s secret meeting: “. . . The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as though the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity.” In America, where the author of this featured haiku is an environmentalist and naturalist, there are eight species. You can listen to the British song thrush, and the North American hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, and the wood thrush, on short YouTube tracks. They all sing so very sweetly — it is a delight.
In this haiku, the author juxtaposes the musical variations of a thrush’s song with the contrasting constancy of the light in which, and to which, the bird is singing. At least, that is what I suppose: for the words “varied thrush” might just be intended to mean any of a variety of thrushes — variations on a theme. A variation is music that is based on the original refrain but is somehow different in rhythm, harmony, or ornamentation. But the light, whether it is dawn, day or dusk, is (fairly) constant for the moments when a thrush is deploying its repertoire.
For me, this haiku succeeds in invoking a number of thoughts in a reader: that we know a thrush’s song, although each bird has variations upon it; that for each dawn there may be (if we are lucky) one thrush or another; that through the years the song of thrushes is a recurrent feature of a dawn, a day, or a twilight, while each bird may live only a few years. Just as our own songs, our own lives are similar but our variations unique, while the things that we sing endure and outlive us.
no bird lives
that sang at my birth —
but the song!
From Theresa Cancro, re:Virals editor:
It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to step down from the position of editor with this issue. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve truly enjoyed all aspects of working on this feature: reading all of the in-depth commentary and making selections, preparing each post, as well as corresponding with the many contributors who’ve submitted their reactions. The good news is that Keith Evetts is taking on the position beginning with next week’s issue, re:Virals 326. I’m confident re:Virals will flourish under Keith’s watch. His bio follows. Please join me in welcoming him!
Retired after living in eight countries, Keith gardens, daydreams and writes in Thames Ditton, UK. He graduated in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, publishing postgraduate research in Nature, the Journal of Physiology, the Journal of Neurochemistry, and the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. More recently, his poems have appeared in The Oxford Magazine and The Linnet’s Wings, with haiku, senryu and sequences in Wales Haiku Journal, Prune Juice, Asahi Shimbun, Cold Moon Journal, Failed Haiku, Heliosparrow, Haiku In Action, Cattails, World Haiku Review, and at The Haiku Foundation; and cherita in The Cherita. Married, with five children, a grey parrot, and a sense of humor
As this week’s winner, Keith has asked me 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.
lattice window — the lacemaker pauses to gaze at the moon — Hortensia Anderson, tinywords (2004)