Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Radhamani Sarma, was:
ruffled by the wind
— Garry Eaton
tinywords, 19:2, October 28 2019
Introducing this poem, Radhamani writes:
Colorful bunches of flowers, green pots, fresh leaves on sign posts, with a note of the deceased’s name …. overtaken by morning glories, soon to wither in the afternoon; but they attract the eyes of passers-by: two pictorial images serving well, one for preserving a memory and the other attenuating it. A dexterously woven contrast that works admirably well.
We have three elements in this haiku, each of them charged with symbolic associations.
The roadside memorial, seen so often, marks the place where some beloved person has recently died in a traffic accident. They tend to be spontaneous, flimsy and not long-lasting, often bouquets and a notice, perhaps mounted on a short pole.
Morning glory’s the common name for many species of convulvulus or bindweed, fast-growing, some invasive, flowering from midsummer onwards and a kigo for early autumn. Ipomoea is the main genus, of scandent habit (climbing or scrambling), its flowers ranging through white to blue and purple. I have some seedlings of ipomoea “Heavenly Blue” coming along for planting out this summer. Its characteristic trumpet shaped flowers bloom in the morning and shrivel in the afternoon. The associations of the trumpet and of brief but brilliant life need no explaining.
Lastly, the wind: the breath of the world, the flow of life, the bringer and taker-away, invisible save through its effects.
Put together, a haiku full of mono no aware, the pathos of ephemeral things.
Morning glories are a climbing plant—maybe they’re growing up a phone pole near the fatality. Also the seeds are poisonous, there’s an underlying implication. Ruffled has at least two meanings. The flowers can lend some sweetness to an otherwise desolate scene.
Radhamani Sarma adds:
A sad scene, full of emotion, disturbed by the wind. What do winds know about the human predicament, blowing away not only flowers, but also human feelings, all in a fleeting moment. A sharp difference between tombstones and these roadside Memorials. Garry Eaton’s keen observation, his affective sense, pity and helplessness all echo here.
Ann Smith – transience and regeneration:
Most of us, as we speed by in our cars, will have caught a glimpse of a patch of colour on a verge and maybe wondered about those who lost their lives, and about those who are still grieving and who travelled back to this spot with their floral tributes. When I see such a tribute I think how dangerous it must be to place flowers at an accident spot.
This is a very poignant haiku. When I read it I wondered if the poet was writing about a personal tragedy. I wondered too if the morning glories had been planted and were now growing at the accident spot (rather than as part of a bouquet, as they would not be very long lasting as cut flowers). I also thought that the poet may be using the term ‘ morning glories’ as a general description of a mixed bouquet of flowers. Anyway all of these questions crowded into my mind.
The morning glory is one of my favourite flowers and is considered an autumn kigo, although here I am not sure that the season is so important. The morning glory symbolises many things including love, life and death. Its flowers arrive in the morning but have faded by the evening and so symbolise the transience of life but also regeneration and hope, as when Issa wrote about them growing gloriously on the roof of his little house
my small shack
(Tr. David LaSpina)
The last line of Gary Eaton’s haiku, for me, stresses how vulnerable and fragile the flowers are (and by implication how vulnerable and fragile life is and we are) lying by the roadside being blown about by the wind, and buffeted by the wind of the passing traffic.
Maybe the sight of such tributes will make us think and slow down.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, Ann has chosen 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, which take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentary’s author gets to choose the next poem.
Anyone can participate. Simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new week’s poem (“Your text”) by the following Tuesday midnight, Eastern US Time Zone, and then press Submit to send your entry. The Submit button will not be available until Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in. We look forward to seeing your commentary and finding out about your favourite poems!
a long walk
to the other side
of the owl
— Peter Newton
Wales Haiku Journal, Winter 2021-2022 (January 2022)
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A long-serving volunteer as Digital Librarian of The Haiku Foundation, Garry died unexpectedly of a heart attack on November 26, 2020.
His short bio and some of his haiku may be read in the Haiku Registry