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 Sébastien Revon, was:
where my son
grew too old
— Chad Lee Robinson
Prune Juice #37 July 2022
Introducing this poem, Sébastien writes:
My first impression of this brilliant senryu was of mystery and deep emotion. I read stories to my son before going to bed. He is 8 years old, still… and yet I know that one day he will put away the old books he used to love, maybe one day an unfinished book. I simply relate this haiku to parental love and yet I feel there is more to this haiku, much more, but I can only sense it, not able to put words on what I foresee. But what I foresee is probably the yugen dimension of this haiku, the several layers of meaning, that I always strive to discover. Thank you Chad Lee Robinson for this very special haiku.
A softly beguiling senryu that suffuses a reader with wistfulness. Ostensibly a father is reminded of when his son grew too old for fables and bedtime stories, as I take it. The poem hints beyond that to the loss of innocence with experience. The bookmark signals the separation of childhood from adulthood, past from present, a son from a father, youth from ageing; dreams from dawning reality. We see the verse from the standpoint of both father and son. The son wanting to grow up, and the father wanting to wind the clock back.
It’s an old theme. We have in the Bible: “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” — 1 Corinthians 13:11. Which words have frequently been taken by literary figures:
Edna St. Vincent Millay:
“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age / The child is grown, and puts away childish things. / Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”
The loss of innocence with experience was the subject of some of William Blake’s best poetry. And CS Lewis writes of reverting, with age and experience, to the truths, the fancies and the appeal of childhood (as we all do, I think): “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
In a few plain words, the lines give us the wish of a boy for the world of adulthood, and that of a father for the world of boyhood.
As to structure, the verse reads as one sentence, although the linebreak suggests a pause after “bookmark,” and the bookmark is the sole concrete visual image. The bookmark stops the clock as it neatly conjures up thoughts of books, of stories. There is no sharp disjunction, the bookmark and the juxtaposition of ages being an harmonious whole. The resulting verse is correspondingly subtle.
A captivating haiku with 9 syllables. I would take a deep breath, a pause after line one. There is ma here. It does touch us deeply and very fondly too. The curtain of this poem rises with ‘a bookmark’ with more emphasis on a particular bookmark that has been throughout in the growing up years of the poet’s son. The countless stages of a child’s physical and mental changes are witnessed by the parents alone and if he/she are a single parent; the story is different. For every little act is noted down in the small pockets of memory highlighted with colours demarking the border lines with suggestions and advices. The narrator in this poem has bookmarked a particular event and hence we foresee the second and the third lines as
‘where my son
grew too old’
Growing up is magical and timeless! It illustrates the essence of time and space. It is beyond one’s control. Yet, if we live to witness the bonding and the relationship, it is ethereal. I ponder here for a few minutes to contemplate on the what, why, which and how; to come to the conclusion. Why is the poet so concerned about the ‘where’ here rather than the moment, ‘when’?
We can look at this in several ways:
Is it about a major decision taken by the son? Is it any argument that backfired? Was it any separation? Was there a mishap, a loss? Isn’t it strange to read the words ‘grew too old’ and to mark that event with ‘a bookmark’? On the other hand I also have a cordial touch to this relationship where the poet must have mustered the courage to ask for advice or any suggestion from his son that must have turned his life for good. Sometimes listening to your children helps and it is a good mannerism and we do win! — ‘a bookmark’ event, isn’t it?
A senryu depicting one of the myriad scenes of family life. A father is mapping his son’s progress. We don’t know what this progress is. His age in years? Perhaps, it’s a reference to photographs, wherein he bookmarked his early childhood years. And suddenly finds his son has outgrown this category!
A bookmark marks a place that you want to find again easily. Its usage covers books, photographs, catalogues, computers, internet browsing and so on. The aim of senryu is to make a trivial thing or an incident stand out as something greater or superior. Here, it marks the passage of time, from childhood perhaps to a gawky teen, or from the latter to an adult.
The ‘too’ in L3, allows dream space. As does the word ‘where’ in L2, not ‘when’. Interesting, and I wonder what the poet is endeavouring to convey. A simple verse, it expresses two worlds – one of yesterday and the world of today with the bookmark as the demarcating factor.
Florin C. Ciobica:
A haiku that intrigues you and makes you speculate. It is clear that the poet is very emotionally involved in what is evidenced by the presence of the possessive adjective. The poem gives off a sad atmosphere, one feels between the lines a pain that the father cannot escape, one that follows him continuously. Thus, you might think that a misfortune has happened to the son, that he no longer exists… The brevity of the poem, 9 syllables arranged three in each line, also seems to suggest that it is about something that cannot be fixed in any way.
In a word, on a subliminal level it subtly conveys how transient we are… The general impression is that of a brutal sword blow that devastates the audience once and for all… Memento mori…
The one longish pause after “bookmark” seems almost like a kire in what could be read as a sentence ku. The word (bookmark) reveals very little about the “where”, but there is a ring of finality about it. It is also interesting that in what follows, “where” is chosen over “when”. The father remembers the moments in a place where his “son grew too old”. What happened to initiate such a marking is open to many readings. The word “bookmark” itself is a positive word, (or a neutral one) used to mark a place in a book or a favourite item online, or even a day, time, experience in life.
And yet the eye cannot but help rest on the word, “too”, a word with negative connotation. Here it could be expressing unhappiness and concern about what happened. He is “my son”, and a profound feeling of protectiveness (and pride?) could be felt in the use of that pronoun.
So what did happen? Was it a long illness (in a hospital), or something extremely traumatic that the son saw or encountered (in a house/hostel/elsewhere)? An accident perhaps (on road/rail/sea/air)? A kidnapping (locked in a place)? Or is the verse about an older son who has been a soldier in war (living inside intense armed conflict)? The list could go on and the questions won’t stop …
Rereading the verse again and again, I could feel the tenderness wafting through the words, and could empathise with a parent deeply sensitive to his child’s life-experiences.
This senryu with only nine syllables and beginning with an article takes us to the world of books and bookmarks where we all grew up.
My daughter opines that a book was probably bought by a parent for their child but the child took so long to complete reading the book that he/she grew up during that time period. She says that another possibility was that the book was kept for too long without even reading and the child outgrew the book.
However, the bookmark referred to here could only be a metaphor to either say that the son outgrew the book or that the book was read and digested and referred to again and again all along until his old age. The bookmark itself may have been outgrown by the poet’s son.
This poem seems to reinforce the fact that days just fly by. Just yesterday a bookmark with a cartoon on it was a treasure and today within no time the boy has grown older and finds no time to admire his childhood possessions.
I don’t know if the poet intended this but the ku could also imply that a life changing event in the boy’s life could have made him mature much more than his actual age.
Amanda White — mourning the child now grown:
This haiku exudes such tender love from a father to his son executed with an extraordinary deft and nuanced touch. This is a haiku of such personal longing we too on reading it sense the wonder and loss of those early childhood years. My own empty nesting thoughts swam straight into this one. Ah, all those bedtime stories and then the quiet afternoons each with our own books. But the bookmark remains now, not the child perhaps outgrowing the story or bored of it – no more Treasure Islands or Narnia. Or even worse a loss – the ‘grew too old’ does not indicate death but absence maybe even disconnection. The bookmark is a powerful symbol, a pause in time worthy of reflection but also an unfinished/unread story. Of fathers and sons what narrative unfolds here? On what page of which book does this bookmark remain. It stays as a keepsake for the father whose viewpoint this haiku holds. And of the son how old is he now? Will he too become a father and find one day the bookmarked moment of his own son’s shift from child to adult. There is a sense of recurrence and wider connotations of remembrance found in books, letters, pressed flowers, secrets… The bookmark remains like a tomb stone, marking a life now grown and mourning the child now gone. Sébastien’s choice too also hints at something of his own history here which adds to its poignancy.
Author Chad Robinson:
I’m happy to see another of my poems up for discussion! I really don’t have much to say about this one. My son is getting older, and so inevitably he is moving on from some things. I noticed a book that he hadn’t picked up in a while with a bookmark still in it, and it just seemed like one of those moments.
I hope people enjoy the poem.
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. 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.
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of the herd
— Eva Limbach
Failed Haiku issue 76, April 2022
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Chad’s own comment perhaps highlights the ability of a haiku poet to recognise “a moment,” writing with an ease that can be developed with practice.