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 Amoolya Kamalnath, was:
after the storm
I would like to be a leaf
for a while
— Eufemia Griffo
Failed Haiku vol 7 issue 77, April 2022
Introducing this poem, Amoolya writes:
What drew me to Eufemia’s haiku is that a storm is something very common in almost everyone’s lives. Now, why would the poet want to be the leaf and not any other part of the plant? What’s so special in a leaf? And, why be a leaf for only a short duration? What’s the leaf doing after the storm? Eufemia has given us an opportunity to contemplate on what each of us would do after being in the eye of the storm. Looking forward to a brainstorming discussion…
I often appreciate haiku that stand apart in some way from the mass that follows the current conventions, yet haiku that still keep spirit with traditions. This is another of them. Here we have the great storm juxtaposed with the little leaf, and the tiniest of cuts implied by the linespaces after “storm” and “leaf” in the sentence. Bridging that gap is the human in nature. Although the poet states how she feels, it is with humility, and there is plenty of space for the reader to identify. As we focus on the zennish notion of becoming a leaf we can imagine for ourselves different aspects of leafness and its relation to the storm, and our relation to both. Is it carried away or surviving? If carried away, then to adventure or danger? Is it so small as to be unnoticed, or even safe from notice? Is it the dubious comfort of being one of many? Is it the wish to be insensate, not to have to think of, or fear storms, or to give oneself up to what cannot be helped or controlled? Is it the symmetry of a perfect leaf contrasted with the flawed and the chaotic? All of the above? What will readers see in it?
But only “for a while.” Impermanence, transience, and accepting the reality that one must return to being human.
In all, a lovely little verse, almost magical.
A stunning haiku with so many images. Line 1 has a very strong impact on the reader as to what next. But, lines 2 and 3 calm it down to zero level. I appreciate the use of words, tone and weight: “after the storm” takes us to that sky and ground where everything goes haywire. So many mixed calculations, mixed thoughts in that spur of storm, and yet the poet believes in becoming a leaf; an agent of calm and serene life that is just temporary. The poet is happy in that part of nature that may leave the world in any moment and yet the satisfaction keeps me wondering how far the poet must have travelled to reach this state of impermanence.
I’m also surprised when the poet voices “I would like to be” — a positive yet humble, poignant and serene tone, isn’t it?
What I love about this poem is there’s so much packed into the idea of “storm.” This storm can be literal — wind, rain, etc. — or metaphorical, an emotional storm, an argument between people, etc. — but an idea of turbulence and chaos is implied.
But we are not there. We are AFTER the storm, in the calm after the nastiness.
Only probably not. Any storm, literal or metaphorical, will have fall out, clean up, possibly devastation, etc. There’s always going to be something that needs to be repaired or gathered or healed after a storm, and I believe we’re in that post-storm chaos when reading this poem.
The speaker has already experienced the intensity of the storm itself, and is now surveying the aftermath, and seem to be exhausted with the prospect of anything. The idea of being a surviving leaf, possibly clinging to a tree or similar, is inviting when everything is still strewn about. There’s something intriguing and calm about simply existing — having no worries, no responsibilities, but simply being.
This poem attempts to tap into that emotion, I think, despite the obvious craft issues, and on that level it works and is successful. Obviously, we can talk about various craft theories — concrete imagery, juxtaposition, ambiguity, and whether or not this poem measures up, but I don’t think that’s the point. Ultimately, this poem attempts to capture the longing for calm and rest, and does an admirable job at conveying just that.
After the storm, when everything is washed out, this is not a dead or withered leaf, or blown; perhaps her poetic imagination envisages the refreshing bloom of a new leaf. A narration/recollection of a helpless situation or some sad occurrence beyond her articulation, hence after the storm, when everything is utter chaos or doom, the affected poet prefers to be a “ leaf for a while” — tenderness, beauty, new leafage with all lines and cute curls, as a conclusion of a story, or fiasco, in her eyes.
Symbolism in Haiku… A thank you to Amoolya Kamalnath for choosing this haiku. My first reaction, being a nature lover, was wow, a poem on nature, about nature. I hadn’t heard of Eufemia Griffo. Google informed me that she is an established Italian Haiku poet. I viewed some beautiful Nature Haiga of hers on DailyHaiga.org
Our lives go up and down. Storms are about the downs in our lives and likewise in the natural world. “What’s the best thing you’ve learned about storms?’ “That they end”, said the horse – by visual artist, Charlie Mackesy. ‘Leaves’ mean many things in different cultures. But the primary symbolisms associated with them are spring, growth, abundance, fertility, rebirth, revival and of course the cyclical nature of life. In some faiths, leaves symbolise hope after difficulty and hardship.
Though the poem appeared simplistic initially, after reading it a couple of times, it revealed a deeper thought process. I see two distinct themes – one of difficulty and the other of revival. Stormy situations and conditions like difficulties, ill health, divorce, alienation, isolation, death, loss and grief visit each of us. Everyone has experienced this. Here, Eufemia Griffo promises hope after the storm passes. Maybe the storm is of long duration, or the difficulty is unbearable or appears endless, but the phrase ‘for a while,’ implies that may there be some rest, some peace, and some respite. “I would like to be a leaf” even if it is “for a while” may well be the lull before the next storm hits. The cycle of life and nature goes on.
Eufemia writes about leaves often. I leave you with the haunting lines of another of her haiku:frozen leaves a deep silence within — Eufemia Griffo, Hedgerow #122, 2017
This moving poem deftly uses semantic ambiguity and powerful metaphoric maps that operate in subtle, almost covert ways.
The first line presents us with a semantic riddle of sorts. It can be read as prospective (“after the storm [passes], I would like to be”) or as retrospective (“[it is now] after the storm, [therefore] I would like to be”). There’s no punctuation after the first line, but think of the difference between the two readings as the introduction of either a comma or an em dash, respectively: “after the storm,” or “after the storm –”. The main takeaway here is that this first line presents an ambiguous sense of the passage of time. Are we in the middle something, or has it already passed? That depends on where you place the cut:
after the storm –
I would like to be a leaf
for a while
after the storm
I would like to be a leaf –
for a while
Either way, the second line reinforces that initial ambiguity. “I would like to be a leaf” is a conditional phrase. What sense of “would” are we dealing with here? Not as the past tense of “will” (the speaker isn’t saying that this will happen), but more like expressing an inclination or desire toward something, as in “I would like to be a leaf [if that’s possible].” However, there’s also the sense of some kind of incomplete thought: “I would like to be a leaf, [but] something prevents that.”
The query of that incomplete thought is answered by the final line, “for a while,” which is yet another conditional element that modifies the initial impulse of “to be a leaf.” The speaker can imagine what it is like be a leaf and maybe would like to be that leaf, but not permanently. In its use of conditional elements, the poem asks several questions without answering them, yet still manages to create an ontological argument, which appears in the ways in which the metaphoric maps cross over.
The poem uses two conceptual metaphors: “storm” and “leaf.” “Storm” is a very broad human concept that entails danger, change, tumult, confusion, etc., and, more narrowly, an atmospheric disturbance including rain, snow, hail, thunder, lighting, etc. That is, a storm can either be an actual weather event, or, more metaphorically, a storm-like condition of being. To say that what follows will be an observation “after the storm” means (either prospectively or retrospectively – see paragraph 2) that the storm has caused a change of perceptive quality – of the leaf. “Leaf,” as a concept, also has very common conceptual entailments: a leaf is a small part of a larger whole (the tree), grows from that whole in a measured and regular way, and is subject, via our common understanding of trees and nature, to a great deal of stress during a storm. Leaves are more fragile than trees, and most importantly, are vulnerable to being separated from their source of life.
After the storm has passed, after the danger is gone, a sense of relief pervades, a sense of calm. That relief is personified in the leaf, which has survived the storm. In the midst of all this, the speaker makes a radical identification with the leaf, saying, in effect, “I am, or would be, like a leaf after a storm, safe now that the danger is passed.” It’s important to note that when comparing human life to plant life, we are invoking an extremely broad conceptual metaphor about the great chain of being, which allows us to explain human attributes via our understanding of non-human attributes. To say that a human is a like a leaf is to use the language of plants to describe something about the human condition. The use of leaf in this poem highlights only those aspects of plant life that are relevant to the situation, in this case, the attachment of the smallest part of the tree to the whole thing, the sense of being one among many, the biological imperatives for growth, etc. However, in comparisons between plants and humans, human attributes outweigh any and all plant attributes, and this is explored by the conditional nature of the language throughout: the comparison of human to plants is necessarily insufficient. It is as if the speaker is saying “I appreciate the calm of the leaf after a storm and would like to be that calm after my own storms, but I can’t commit to the full life of the leaf because I am too human.” That is, as humans, we can imagine what it might be like to be a leaf, but only “for a while.”
Amanda White — a deeply relatable haiku:
This haiku is one to be read again and again and again. It immediately appealed to me, not least as someone with a ‘leaf thing’ going on but for its ability to draw us in and say ‘yes, me too, I would like to be a leaf for a while’. There is something a bit Whitmanesque here but also a touch of Dylan (Bob not Thomas). The quietness of this confession is a beautiful contrast to the storm it follows and we float as a leaf to wherever we may go. The understatement of ‘for a while’ evokes the briefness of our lives, our fragility, our inevitable end but one where the journey will carry us somewhere with stories, we hope, that we will then tell along the way. In this way the storm suggests a birth, our drifting life as leaves then lasting for as long as a ‘while’ — such a tantalising and subjective sense of time.
But then on another re-reading there is the excitement of watching a tree shaken by a storm and the dislodging of its leaves, sent spinning into the world, uprooted and released. Here the yearning is perhaps to have a more exciting and spontaneous life oneself, that the watcher of such a moment desires something less predictable or fixed, to be shifted if only ‘for a while’. And yet another re-reading suggests something more personal, where the storm is perhaps an argument or time of stress, a trauma, where that calmness of a leaf maybe still fixed safely to the tree and not dislodged by the storm offers a moment of tranquility, an anchoring, a peace. ‘I would like’ brings a sadness to the haiku, it is a desire not fulfilled, perhaps never to be fulfilled, but still something to aspire to or dream upon. Is the writer alluding to a disillusionment with the world, politics, society or all of the above? Does that image of a leaf provide a simpler way of life, a way to be more in touch with nature, a place of rest and growth? Whether metaphorical or literal the storm and leaf are both vivid images that invite us in to wonder on their nature and symbolism, which renders this haiku deeply relatable.
Author Eufemia Griffo comments:
I wrote this one thinking about the pandemic, in 2020. It was a difficult time for me and my family. My husband had just finished a course of chemotherapy. We were really happy to have left that difficult time behind. Then at the end of February, the pandemic came to Italy.
We were very afraid. We had lost so many things, including our freedom. From the window I saw a little leaf, flying away. There was a strong wind. I thought: “I would like to be a leaf, for a while,” — flying anywhere.
And start living again…
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Amanda 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. Out-takes from the best of these take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the chosen commentary’s author gets to pick the next poem.
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a blue sky
I don’t trust
— Robert Epstein
Frogpond 41:2 Spring/Summer 2018
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