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re:Virals 367

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 Alan Summers, was:

butterfly knot
each of us
a wing

— Ella Aboutboul
Haiku Dialogue‘s Family Portraits series, editor John S Green, The Haiku Foundation September 2022

Introducing this poem, Alan writes:

Sometimes there’s no logical reason to be drawn to a haiku other than it successfully bypasses the mind. I didn’t know what a butterfly knot was, though (if you like trees being planted) informed me in seconds.

It was those last two lines that really grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Amongst other things two films flashed up, “Der Himmel über Berlin/Wings of Desire” and George Bailey being saved by Clarence Odbody in It’s A Wonderful Life. Both the character (Bailey) and actor James Stewart (PTSD) were going through deep trauma but managed to pull through. I don’t think I’m the only person who has ever needed an angel at least once. Perhaps a butterfly knot, allegedly one of the most secure knots, and done in just three quick steps, is something to hold onto through extra difficult times, like an angel.

Opening comment:

Even without a reader’s knowledge of the photograph which it complemented as a shahai, this verse would stand alone as a short metaphorical analogy or parable.  The butterfly knot (pictured – n.b. not the photo that accompanies the verse), common in the climber’s repertoire, enables the safe attachment of, for example, a partner. butterfly knot It must be tied correctly to avoid a “false butterfly knot” which can come apart under stress.  The name of the knot, purely descriptive, nevertheless summons up all the connotations of that evocative insect to the poetic mind.  A reader would probably conclude that the lines refer metaphorically to our being stronger through interdependence, each perhaps unable to fly, or to make it up the mountain, without a partner.

wedding coupleWhen you know that the verse is juxtaposed with a photo of a bride and groom “tying the knot,” it takes on extended associations of delicacy, of pairing, fluttering hearts and flying emotions, conjoined with mutual support, even life-saving, as a married couple who intend to remain inseparable. That you need the photo plus the verse to get these extensions, yet the verse does not simply describe an aspect of the visual scene but can stand on its own, is characteristic of haiga or shahai.

Amoolya Kamalnath :

A powerful seven word senryu.

A butterfly knot comprises two symmetrical and non-collapsible loops. It forms a stable, secure loop after the initial setting.

This poem was first written in response to a family portrait of a wedding scene, so probably, the poet relates the stability of the knot to the institution of marriage, and the husband and wife to each being a wing of the butterfly (or the loop in the knot).

The number of syllables decreases in each line from 4 to 3 to 2 along with it being minimally worded. There seems to be a clear kire (cut) after knot. Since the poet wrote the poem more like a senryu, the butterfly may not need to be taken as a kigo. If it’s taken as a kigo, it refers to spring season, when love is in full bloom and it can be said that the couple is becoming one butterfly with each of them being one wing. There probably are deeper layers in the poem which the readers could explore.

Could this have been written as a monoku? Would it have given the same effect?

butterfly knot each of us a wing

Rupa Anand:

This senryu flummoxed me. I was thrown into a knot that I decided to unravel. First, I had to google what a butterfly knot is. I learn that it is a popular type of knot used to tie a secure loop in the middle of the rope. The dictionary defines a butterfly knot as a resistant knot that resembles a butterfly and can take loads on both ends, as well as on the loop. Climbers use the butterfly knot in various situations. It is a common knot for glacier climbing, allowing climbers to attach a third person to their rope. It is useful in rock climbing where the ropes are long, and climbers might not have access to either end. It is relatively quick to tie and untie but requires practice to get it right. It forms a stable, secure loop after the initial setting. Improper tying can result in a similar-looking but inferior “false butterfly” knot.

We have butterfly knots in our hair, our braids, and our shoe laces. And then we have those glorious creatures – butterflies that flit from flower to flower in our gardens.

It derives its name from the bends of rope that seem to resemble butterfly wings. To untie the knot, press the wings backwards to break the tension and it unravels.

Once I absorbed the above, I realised the impact of this senryu. I interpret it as a metaphor for relationships between living beings.
The world is a beautiful butterfly knot, with each being, a wing. There is existential interconnectedness here. Relationships are tricky and delicate and like the butterfly knot, require practice or they may swiftly unravel. The butterfly knot works best with soft ropes, similarly, we need to be pliant and flexible in life.

Lisa Germany:

This is my first attempt at really studying a haiku and I wasn’t quite sure where to start. But I was surprised by what I came up with once I sat down with it.

I admit I had to look up what a butterfly knot was. But once I saw the different variations of them, I made the following connections
– each loop of the knot is a “wing”. The extended loops are even shaped like wings (though not butterfly wings to my mind)
– each loop represents the members of a family (“each of us”)

From there I see 2 interpretations – both based around family dynamics:

1) the knot represents a family hug. For knots where there are no extended loops, or the extended loops are very small, the haiku speaks of family unity and closeness where each member of the family is drawn together into an embrace. If there are one or more larger loops (which seems common), then perhaps one or more of the family members feels left out, or more distant, from the rest of the family unit who are all embracing each other in a tight hug

2) the knot represents tension within a family. On the flip side, the family could be extremely dysfunctional. Pulling on the knot (stressing the family) generates tension, rather than an embrace. Any extended loops could represent family members who are not involved in the tension and look at it from the outside in.

Who knew that so much could be said in 9 syllables! The power of haiku.

Radhamani Sarma:

Thanks to Ella Aboutboul, for this interesting topic of the butterfly knot. The butterfly knot is used for climbing, dextrously twisting the loop into one miraculous shape of eight; special for climbing. Thus accommodated, each climber, “ each one of us“ is ready to fly high.

Marcie Wessels — stronger through our connections with others:

Written in response to a picture of a young couple on their wedding day, Ella Aboutboul’s senryu is a powerful and delicate poem about the fragility of human beings and the strength of human relationships. If we consider the poem in its pictorial context, the first line calls to mind the idiom we use to describe the act of getting married –a couple is often said to be “tying the knot,” a phrase which comes from the ancient Celtic wedding tradition known as “handfasting”. What makes this poem particularly interesting is Aboutboul’s choice of knot. Butterfly knots are frequently used by rock and mountain climbers. They are more stable than other kinds of knots and can bear a heavy load. If a length of rope is damaged, a butterfly knot can be tied to isolate the damaged section so that the rope can still be used. Aboutboul invites us into the poem with the use of the personal pronoun “us” in L2. Our inclusion expands the poem’s context. Aboutboul is not just talking about marriage but about every human relationship. The brilliance of this senryu lies in the interplay between the name of the knot and the insect for which it is named, which Aboutboul deftly introduces in L3 with “a wing”. When tying knots, one tends to make loops. Each loop is essential to the knot and gives the knot strength. Aboutboul chooses to use the word “wing” instead of loop in L3, which conjures up the insect. Made of chitin, a protein similar to the keratin in our skin and nails, a butterfly’s wings are both surprisingly strong and incredibly fragile. Wings carry a migrating butterfly thousands of miles but they can be easily damaged by bristles, branches, grass, or a careless human being. In L2 and L3, Aboutboul creates a beautiful metaphor for what it means to be human – “each of us/a wing”. The use of the three-line format adds drama and tension to the poem, but there’s a lightness and a delicacy, too. What I find so moving about Aboutboul’s poem is the undercurrent of emotion she has infused in her lines. When I read her senryu, I feel Aboutboul’s love and compassion for all living things. Like butterflies, human beings are fragile creatures, but Aboutboul reminds us that we are stronger and better because of our connections with others and our interconnectedness.

Author Ella Aboutboul:

I remember the moment I first saw the ‘elopement’ photo prompt offered by Haiku Dialogue guest-editor John S Green. A handsome young couple in a twined embrace, fingers locked. The groom is enveloped by his laughing bride from behind him and responding with a bashful smile. Both happen to have their eyes closed, adding a sense of joyful abandon. Of course the shot is also a little staged as wedding photos are, after all, it’s an important event designed to imprint ‘the happiest day’ in one’s life.

The image of the butterfly came to me at first as a visual reflecting the photo and mood, the couple beautifully dressed and drunk on happiness in the wilderness. The idiom ‘tying the knot’ popped in my head and then it all locked in like a visual logo with ‘butterfly knot’. A butterfly knot symbolises security, but it’s also a tie. ‘Getting hitched’ is about building a life together and becoming ‘we’, which does not necessarily encourage individual independence. You can have a wing, but you need your partner’s wing in order to fly together.

There was ambiguity in the message. Suddenly it became a senryu after my own heart, although an empowering one. It’s how I feel in my marriage – balancing individuality and mutual support within a partnership is a conscious climb. I married very late because I enjoyed my independent lifestyle during my 30’s and 40’s. Posting the haiku was a form of affirmation.

Alan was taken by the poem as soon as I made it public, which was very encouraging for me as a relative beginner. When Alan informed me that he chose it as the poem for this forum, I felt honored, but I also became secretly worried. Is there something more in the haiku I am not seeing?… I turned back to the poem and read it again with new eyes.

The compactness of the haiku had always pleased me, but now the compactness of all threads channeled into one ‘knot’ became almost holographic. Perhaps readers can see their own personal vision reflected in a butterfly knot. It’s what I hope. Alan offered me the editor/reader’s wing which we all need in order to fly as poets, and I look forward to reading the commentary. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share my creative process.


Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Marcie 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!

i am i am not the darkness between subway stations

— Frank Dietrich
Frogpond 45:2 Spring/Summer 2022

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.


Welcome, Ella. Ella has had a number of haiku selected in the Foundation’s Haiku Dialogue.

And welcome, Lisa Germany: it was particularly pleasing to receive your first commentary. It takes a certain amount of courage to submit — well done. Taking time to think about a verse in depth, rather than just skim-reading, reveals so much about haiku, and how and why it grabs you. The essence of this feature.


This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. butterfly knot
each of us
a wing
    — Ella Aboutboul

    I’m going to reset some of previous comments in my exploration of this poem. It may have been something in the tone of what I wrote that prompted, I felt, a bit of lecturing as a response. But then, I’m sometimes more sensitive than is good for my boots, so take that into account.

    I appreciate Alan’s remark: “Sometimes there’s no logical reason to be drawn to a haiku other than it successfully bypasses the mind.” I’ve said many times in various places that the poems, including haiku of course, that please me most as reader and also as writer, are those that *feel* right beyond any reason why they should. They cannot be explicated.

    Haiku famously have been referred to as one breath poems. Usually that is taken to mean that they can be spoken all in one outbreath. But it may also mean that they can be felt, intuited and grasped in one breath taken in.

    I seem to recall Paul Reps contrasting a Western with a Japanese response to beholding a rose. The former, he said, might say something like “This reminds me of my grandmother,” or, “I prefer yellow to white,” while the latter will hold it close to face and say “Ahhhh”.

    My response to this poem was something like an “ahh”. With that as a foundation, or context so to speak, I could go on to consider what elements in the poem I thought work really well, which did not detract from the first reading/breathing in of the poem. In fact, that consdideration enhanced my appreciation.

    I won’t add those thoughts here.

    About spiritual practice I have heard it said the main thing is “to get out of your own way.” Maybe that’s true of any artistic endeavor, as well— knowing what gets in the way of a work being breathable by one’s whole being.

    I am writing this, not because I think you don’t have your own understanding of such things, but to make myself clear to myself.* Writing it in the context of this poem, as a response to it, and beyond that into the mystery of how poems, sometimes, can move around in the dark places of the psyche waving weird flashlights. Torches, for you Brits.

    *Though sometimes what is clear to me is how confused I am, or the limits of my understanding.

    1. I empathise: sometimes, a poem just grabs you on first reading, and you just “know.” (I like the notion of flashlights in the psyche). Other times, perhaps the enlightenment of others, or meditation, or research, or discovering context, makes a reader subsequently warm to a poem.

      I suggest that the holistic recognition of a poem (or other work of art) may itself be a thing learned, that develops with experience and perhaps with study and reflection.

      The craft aspect is of interest too, to others of the craft. So, Peter, I hope you will add your thoughts on what elements in the poem you thought work really well.

    2. Thanks for your commentary Peter. There are many gems for me to savor in your outline – not necessarily linked to the poem. Yes, the one breath experience. Elusive even with a torch. For me it’s the ones that I know ‘I’ didn’t write.

  2. I love this senryu. I captured my interest immediately. It’s very interesting to read all the commentary. I wrote a comment but missed the deadline so I’ll post it here if I may:

    butterfly knot
    each of us
    a wing

    I hadn’t read this poem before and I am not familiar with the poet. This means I don’t know what inspired it. What immediately grabbed my attention is the contrast at the same time interdependence between knot and wing. Then an image popped into my mind. A mountain-climbing couple or team. United in their love for mountaineering and respect for each other. I can only imagine that mountain climbing must be exhilarating. There is a sense of freedom in performing any task that’s all-encompassing. Though climbing is physically challenging, reaching the top probably makes you forget the hardship in an instant. Up there, a certain lightness of being surely takes over that’s not unlike flying. A feeling of being at one with the world. What’s interesting is that this is not a solitary experience but a shared one. Two (or more) people free in each other’s company yet in total synchronization. Knowing you can trust your partner promotes increased closeness, safety, and freedom.

    1. Thank you Corine, I enjoyed reading your take. I’ll take with me – ‘A feeling of being at one with the world.’

  3. Alan, thank you again – such an honour to have my poem chosen here. Fascinating to read your outline and your take on the poem, particularly how the initial resonance triggered more investigation and associations culminating in a solid and empowering meaning.

    Amoolya, Rupa, Lisa, Radhamani, and Marcie – wonderful to read your comments. Such richness. Each of you brought more layers that highlighted the poem differently. Amoolya, I agree, the poem could have been written as a monoku. There is a whole new conversation here… I love Rupa’s line ‘The butterfly knot works best with soft ropes, similarly, we need to be pliant and flexible in life.’

    Lisa, I don’t think it matters that you didn’t know about the prompt. You put your finger on it – a knot can represent a ‘family hug’ or ‘family tension’. Radhamani’s line, “each of us is ready” to fly high’ also resonated in terms of the balance within relationships.

    And Marcie – wow… I learned a lot from your multi-layered and informative commentary. I will be reading it again in order to absorb the richness in your seeing. I love the reference to the Celtic ‘handfasting’. Really touched by the line ‘beautiful metaphor for what it means to be human’…. This butterfly took off somewhere new…!

    Finally, thank you Keith for hosting this forum. I had just discovered it, and will probably be a secret reader for a while before attempting to participate…

    1. Ella – I think you should ship the secret reading and jump right in. That’s what I did :P
      Thank you for such a wonderful poem to kick-start my contemplative journey of others’ haiku/senryu.

  4. How fascinating to read everyone else’s perspectives!

    I didn’t know there was an image associated with the senryu. Perhaps if I had, I would have made the connection with marriage. And I admit I just looked at the shape of the knot – I didn’t actually read any information about it.

    So even more layers than I imagined with these 9 syllables :)

    1. Lisa: I should perhaps clarify that we keep re:Virals to haiku and senryu in their various forms. Where they are taken from haiga or from haibun, they must stand on their own as haiku/senryu without the image or text, respectively, and the appraisal of commentaries is made primarily on that basis. Alan presented this one on that basis without the image and I decided to dig the image out for this post as it is already on the THF server…. If there is a little such context, it can be tacked on. This year we have had one of each. I am not keen to open those floodgates (to haiga and haibun)! There are plenty of good stand-alone haiku and senryu.

      Other criteria, by the way, are that the verse proposed should be:

      — of good quality (published in an edited publication — with the full reference for publication, poet and date)

      — written by the poet in English

      — contemporary (by a poet within our lifetime)

      — third party (not the proposer’s nor mine)

      1. Thanks Keith. Good to know. I’m looking forward to being a regular contributor. Really fascinated by and in awe the other perspectives given.

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