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, chosen by Wendy Mader, was:
the brief appearance
— Bryan Rickert
Stardust Haiku issue 61 January 2022
Introducing this poem, Wendy writes:
This poem calls to mind the gentle lazy days of late Summer gatherings. Lingering briefly, the season’s final butterflies fade reluctantly from a ramshackle garden. Even as ladies sipping tea comment on the refreshingly cool breeze, and make plans for Autumn events soon to come.
This artfully simple haiku immediately rang my bell. Summer garden parties… for a short while we deck ourselves out gaily and flit from greeting to greeting, tasting a little conversation in each group, before returning to our ‘real’ lives. Mental images of green lawns and lovely dresses, sunshine and champagne flutes, and butterflies. For me, a very neat haiku (in the shared area between haiku and senryu), the two parts not straining disruptively but complementing each other; melliflous language and ideas accessible to anyone who has ever attended such a party. You don’t need to Google anything. The suggestion that the guests and butterflies sharing the party are comparable is a gently humorous one in the haikai tradition.
The scenario has particular appeal for me; forgive me. Over twenty years posted abroad in various embassies I had to attend hundreds of official garden parties and national day receptions as a representational duty, and each year our own mission held the QBP – Queen’s Birthday Party – in June, usually in the garden where there was one. Bastille Days in July were also memorable: better champagne (a matter of French pride) and without the duties of hosting. The very notion of the diplomatic corps as butterflies fills me with glee. Such occasions were an excellent and efficient way of courteously acknowledging colleagues one didn’t want to have much to do with, and quickly moving on; and also of having many discreet, short but substantive exchanges with contacts one did want to see, without attracting particular attention. A lot of cross-pollination could be done.
If a reader wants to zoom out further, well the “garden” and the short-lived butterflies could also be seen allegorically as the fleeting enjoyment of Eden before the fall, or our frivolous species frittering away this green and blue planet in the sunshine.
I mustn’t leave without complimenting the host: thank you, Bryan.
This sweet ku resonated with me immediately. I loved its lightness, its flavour of fun. The tone is personal and friendly. Imagery is of spring. Butterflies imply flowers. Flowers imply a garden. And a garden implies butterflies! Put them all together and it’s spring!
The structure is simple and straightforward:
L 1 – The poet has spoken in the general. Of parties, not a particular party! The butterflies are not intruders, not part of the setting or the party. But they’re as esteemed and welcomed as the human guests present at parties and gatherings. They make an appearance and depart. Just like socialites do!
L 2 -Their presence is brief because, by nature, butterflies flit in, out and about.
A happy, joyous poem.
Haiku is all about ‘show not tell’. Well, what a lovely image in the very first line of a “garden party” which most of us look forward to. But, unless the reason and season is defined, one can’t come to conclusions. The next line “the brief appearance” lays down so many possible questions in the reader’s mind. The last line “of butterflies” sets another image and prompts thought about whether the line 1 has anything to do with the brief appearance.
Is it the arrival of fall? Or nearing winter? Is it that the garden is just a new one with not many flowers around? Is it that there is too much of sound, show and pomp that butterflies don’t flutter much?
Or maybe the flowers put up are just paper ones that the butterflies just appear for a brief time? Or that the butterflies must have been in the air and the fragrance of the scent around must have brought them down for a short spell.
I like the way Bryan has crafted the poem. I appreciate the sight and the silence distinct in it.
In my garden…butterflies hang around all day from the onset of spring through early autumn. They are attracted to the special flora I planted for them, as are the bees and hummingbirds. They know they are safe in my garden…everything is organic. For me, Bryan Ricket’s spring ku is multi-layered with meaning. The garden comes alive when the butterflies come to visit, announcing with joyful flutter the arrival of spring…
On the one hand, all that is needed is a brief appearance of such a flutter to make it a party in the garden, as we know there will be flowers attending, too. On the other hand…are there very few flowers, so the work of extracting nectar is quickly finished — explaining the brief appearance?
Another layer I see here is the metaphorical meaning of transience that is a prevalent theme in zen buddhism philosophy — spring, like life, is brief. We are all just visiting, passing through, like butterflies, so what we make of our short life here can be a party, if we choose it to be.
Another layer that can also apply is that of extinction of butterflies due to landscape-scale threats from pesticides, development and climate change. The monarch butterfly is on the endangered species list. Butterflies, like bees and birds are essential for life. They help to pollinate, and are crucial for reproduction of many edibles and some ground vegetation. If our butterflies are placed at risk….all life forms are at risk, too. They deserve our encouragement and every effort to protect them.
On first reading I saw a beautiful garden with a cloud of butterflies – so much colour in these lines without one colour being mentioned and so much action without a single verb.
On a second reading I saw a garden party attended by human social butterflies flitting from person to person but not spending much time with any of them. On a third reading I saw the garden as our world and the butterflies as us — ephemeral and short lived. (The average life span of most butterfly species is 2 to 4 weeks).
Although I couldn’t find it in the kigo list I usually use I found a world kigo database where I read that the butterfly is a kigo for spring. It can also symbolise hope, transformation, rebirth and even immortality despite its brief life — since it regenerates from its chrysalid ‘death’. While researching this I read about a dream that the Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu, who lived during the fourth and third centuries B.C had :
“Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly.
All day long, he floated on the breeze
Without a thought of who he was or where he was going.
When he awoke, Chuang Tzu became confused.
“Am I a Man”, he thought,
“who dreamed that I was a butterfly?
Or am I butterfly, dreaming that I am a man?
Perhaps my whole waking life is
but a moment in a butterfly’s dream!.”
Anyway I have gone off on a tangent. I love Bryan’s haiku which led me to Chuang Tzu’s dream and inspired me to write a sequence about butterflies myself. Thank you to Wendy, Bryan and Keith.
Yes, after days of stringent hard work, tiring work and gloom, one calls for a party, or a garden party, to interact with friends, neighbors and relatives and close repartees. Merry cheers, freedom and discussions and time at your disposal – all at the kind invitation of some good hearted soul, blessed soul;
The first line of this senryu, the writer makes us interact with the invitees of garden party and how nice to be among blossoms, flowers and cakes, sweets, mobiles switched off…. time spent in open air theatre.
Next, we have “ the brief appearance / of butterflies”. Filled with guests, talks, inspiring chats, drinks, spills, loud clatter, sweets and garden flowers, thrown waste foodstuffs, spilt drinks, flowers hidden, how can one expect butterflies to suck from them? They are slow, they appear, zoom around only for a short while, lest they should be trampled and caught, deprived of freedom. Noise and hectic activity deter them butterflies from entering the garden. The same garden, where those butterflies used to visit and imbibe honey , now they think a while…. Hence brief is their visit and appearance.
Butterflies also represent symbolically , faith, life and energy; “their brief appearance” could possibly allude that there is no life and spirit in the garden now, amidst noise and crowd and drinks there is little hope of survival.
They take the exit to seek elsewhere their honey and flowers.
“ Butterflies are self propelled flowers” — R.H. Heinlein.
Amoolya Kamalnath — the wealth packed into a simple ku:
When I read this haiku, I continued to read the poet’s name and the publication reference. Then it struck me that I’ve read it earlier, probably when the issue was released. I usually save the poem and go about my work and my brain sets into motion working out the ku. But it was different this time. My mind just overflowed with thoughts and ideas and I had to scribble it down immediately lest I miss the train.
My first thought was that it was a simple but enthralling observation about the mystery of butterflies, from where they come and where they go, how far they travel and why they choose to travel a certain path. I’m sure we all remember our fascination for these beautiful ‘magical’ creatures as children? I’m afraid this will run long. So many scenarios play in my mind when I contemplate this little ku. Are human beings partying in a garden where butterflies enter? Or is it a lush green garden during spring abounding in floral splendour and there are these butterflies chasing each other in play, to further mate, bringing about gaiety in the observer? Or is the poet being metaphoric? Is it a party at night where the twinkling stars are seen for a brief period in between a cloudy and gloomy weather? May be, even a short spell of rain in a not-so-flourishing place but with contented people abounding?
Some other similar but rarer ideas too come dashing in just like the flash floods. At a pub, at a stag party, somehow two women wander in, very briefly, without the bouncers stopping them! I don’t know how that came in my mind but it did! Could the ku be portraying the surprise visit of grandparents at a grandchild’s home or vice versa – grandchildren staying faraway visiting their grandparents for a day or two? It’s almost always a happy surprise party when either of these happen. How about close friends or best friends catching up at a common friend’s party? It’s such a great pleasure! Also, meeting favourite/close relatives at a function, briefly, can evoke the same thrill and excitement.
All this and more. This poem also directs us to some philosophy. Life is fleeting and nothing is permanent. May be a bit of Buddhist Zen philosophy and a little Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism. There are only brief periods of both happiness and sadness and sometimes both at the same time. To appreciate beauty even in transience is something we all have to learn, therein lies the secret to a longer, happier and healthier life.
Here too, a little like the previous poem we studied, we come from a relatively larger garden and/or a party to something small like a butterfly. It’s somehow similar to human beings coming from the cosmos/God/heaven which is so vast down to a neonate who is only a few centimetres long. I see the consonance of ‘r’ and a bit of assonance too giving a beautiful lyrical feel to the poem.
So much wealth packed into this notably simple ku
Author Bryan Rickert:
I believe there are always those people who come fashionably late to parties. Making an entrance, going through the room with a flutter of activity, there is definitely that need to have all eyes on them. Then, as quickly as they come, they go. After writing the initial draft of this haiku, it seemed that these could be either real butterflies or people that we refer to as social butterflies. In the context of the haiku moment, all I can say is that at a party, I am the guy most likely to wander off and look at flowers. The guy to notice when butterflies come and go. Such is the case with this poem: it came from an actual garden party moment in my own garden!
Many times I write a haiku and only revise them sparingly. This time, I was so involved with events that I noticed it, catalogued it in my brain, and came back to it on my lunch break — I try to visit a local park every day on lunch, for the purpose of reading or writing haiku. It’s very romantic to say “I spotted the butterflies in action then stopped the world to write this poem!” But that’s not my reality! I notice a lot of things and file them away for my writing sessions. I like to write and edit while I go. I always carry a little notepad for such occasions. Many people just make notes on the phone. I can’t quite get myself to make notes on the phone. I guess I’m just too old fashioned.
Thank you for this delightful opportunity to share a few thoughts about this poem.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries, and to the poet, Bryan. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Amoolya 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. All with respect for the poet. 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.
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!
tiger bones steeped in rice wine my sanity
— Corine Timmer
Haiku Society of America 2022 Senryu award (Honourable mention)
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Bryan Rickert is a prolific author of senryu, in particular, and much published. He edits Failed Haiku and the Living Senryu Anthology, and is Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America from his home in Illinois. A short bio and many senryu may be perused in the Living Senryu Anthology.