Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of your favorites among the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Harrison Lightwater, was:about the wind three windmills agree — Marie-Thérèse Taylor The Heron's Nest Volume XXV, Number 2: June 2023
Introducing this poem, Harrison writes:
Windmills of the old sort, and this century’s wind turbines, are a feature of where I live. This verse leapt out at me from the pages of the Heron’s Nest among all the standard haiku there, but I wonder how readers of re:Virals will assess it against the ‘norms’ of haiku/senryu. Is it more of an adage or proverb? For me, if it isn’t thought a haiku then it should be. It may not have a season word or clear cut and juxtaposition but it has much original charm, made me cogitate and smile, and I’d like to have written it, very much.
Ah, politics! There’s a Polish proverb “two Poles, three parties.” This delightful inverted two line verse with its warm irony has the ring of an age old saying, yet as far as I know it is entirely original. It could be a moment’s observation: the chances of seeing three windmills all aligned, with their arms in exactly the same position, are small enough for it to be remarkable. There’s anthropomorphism in “agree,” although dials and numbers and cash balances are commonly said to agree so it’s perfectly consistent with general usage. But “agree” is the word that works the magic, and makes us think of people, together with the inversion that leaves unsaid the thought that it’s only the wind that three windmills can agree upon.
Such irony…there’s agreement on the source of their power, but they have no say over the wind. Just as people are driven, willy-nilly, under the illusion that they are free individuals independent of the prevailing power (and often bickering with each other). And then, the wind is not a given, a constant. It’s fickle, changeable, and all the mills can do is turn to meet it, and their arms are driven faster or slower.
Except perhaps in a marriage, three is a mystic number (three wishes, three coins in a fountain, three questions to gain access to a dragon’s cave, three trolls under a bridge) and sure enough, “three windmills” has been a subject for several artists and place names. A quick web search reveals works by Breughel and others entitled “Three Windmills,” hanging in the finest galleries.
Lastly, Harrison’s question: is it a haiku? Well, it has two elements, the inversion provides a cut, there’s a natural force, there’s space for the reader to meditate and complete circles of meaning, there is haikai humour, and even perhaps a seasonal hint in “windmill” of the pinwheel, a spring word in saijiki. And, well, if such succinct brilliancies are to be excluded from the academics’ dusty archives I’ll get my hat.
I look at the poem two ways: first, physical as portrayed by the poem, the windmills that need wind to run either agree with the right amount of wind or lack of it; secondly, as the proverbial winds of change, three windmills could represent a multitude — a section of a population who agree unanimously with the suitability of the change for their benefit or lack of the suitability but in any case the agreement is unanimous, which could also mean only a selected few are benefiting from a large population because generally windmills are located in large numbers in an area and only three are said to agree.
For me this is a deceptively simple haiku. The windmills all turn in the same way, agreeing on the wind’s direction. But there is a larger question about the context. Are there other windmills that don’t agree? Are these the only three, or just three of thousands? That is one of the joys of haiku, you are given just a glimpse and from it, everyone constructs their own view.
Currently there are many controversies about the use of windmills. Even the most ardent environmentalists, wanting to be free from fossil fuel addiction, worry about the damage it causes wildlife injured or killed by the spinning blades. It leads for me to a tangent considering whether wind energy is good or bad. This is yet another marvel of haiku. Even a single word in a poem can lead to entirely new trains of thought. I enjoyed how these lines led me to so many reflections.
I did not have to sit long with this 6-word poem before it spoke to me!
The presentation and discussion of an issue requiring some sort of change (the wind of change).
The three windmills represent three “judges.” The words “three” and “agree” rhyme and fit nicely into the conciseness of the poem and tell me the other two “windmills” were divided on the issue, but after some discussion a majority vote was reached.
In the white space we can reach our own conclusion on whether the agreement was positive or negative, but we are led to believe that windmills will turn in agreement with the blowing wind, hence a positive outcome. Thank you! I enjoyed the poem!
This short poem speaks volumes. I immediately focussed on how windmills tend to synchronize over time and spin in tandem. I actually love watching modern-day windmills. Their majestic white structures standing tall above us. There is a patch of them near where I live and I see them on my morning commute to the school. They stand out against the mountains and the blue sky and I’ll admit, I’ve pulled over more than a few times to snap a quick picture with my phone. But watching them in real time is best because of their movement.
I love the personification of the windmills in this poem. I can picture them having a conversation with their non-existent mouths, maybe as three old-timers sitting on a front porch somewhere in the country, rocking in those big white wooden rockers that I love. Their chairs are rocking in tandem as they’re nodding and saying the same phrases to each other, but using different words. “Nice breeze today.” “Not too strong.” “Will dry the clothes on the line.”
I’m also reminded of a trip I took with my son when he was in third or fourth grade and doing a science fair project on wind energy. We lived in Denver at the time and there were no wind turbines there, so we drove an hour or so north to just over the Wyoming border, where there was a huge stand of them. We could see the wind turbines from miles away and just kept talking about how mesmerizing they were. As we got closer, my son started telling me all about the science of how they work. He had learned a ton in his research and wanted to see them up close and in person. When we got there, we really couldn’t do much more than walk around and look, taking pictures, making notes. No one was present to give a tour and there was no signage. So it was just us. There was a good wind that day, luckily, so we could see them in action. I learned that when the wind is too strong, they shut off to prevent damage. When we got home, my son built a six-foot-tall replica of a wind turbine that worked with batteries and made a cool display with the photos from our trip. It was my favorite science fair project he ever did, largely because of our trip to Wyoming to see the turbines.
I have an affinity for renewable energy in the modern-day sense. But it also harkens back to renewable energy that our ancestors used. Including windmills. Must be in the genes. In this sense, there is a timelessness to this poem that I love. I picture windmills across the prairie during pioneer times. As settlers came and put down roots in order to clear, farm and manage their homesteads, perhaps purchased through the Homestead Act of 1862.
Funny, in all this talk about climate change, I’ll bet no one has thought to ask the windmills their thoughts.
Bringing humour in words, while letting the reader experience the image/s in haiku, is surely a challenging task. This two liner has managed to do just that, and in exactly six words! It made me chuckle AND engage in, as I read and reread the poem.
Interesting is the word, “three”. Are there only those many windmills, wherever they are? Or are these the only three that are not turning as the others are, or turning better? If so, and if we may carry the anthropomorphism further, aided by the word, “agree”, it is as if they are either rebelling against or supporting something the wind has done.
And what could that be? That the wind is not blowing, OR there is hardly any wind, OR it is a mighty slow day – wind-wise, OR a fluctuating one, OR that the wind is making them spin nonstop patterns in the blue yonder? OR, and together with any of the above, could it also be that they don’t like the noise they make while in motion? And how these sound waves, plus the air vibrations, adversely affect the environment, especially wildlife?
For me, the gently amused tone of the poem shows the poet ready to explore ingeniosly a “what if” situation, where windmills have voices and are more than just inanimate objects. It is almost as if the poet is overseeing an imaginary discussion between all them, and the stand/s taken thereof.
On an aside, it reminded me of the “Herbie” series of films, where the little car, the 1963 Volkswagen Beetle, has a mind of his own!
It’s an intriguing two liner. One that makes us think of connections – between windmills, climate/ weather, human life, and other related things too – if we only allow ourselves to slide into that space of the ripple effect.
This ku made me smile and introspect – visualising the three wide spread arms of three windmills rotating in harmony and in unison – almost like nodding in agreement….and seeing them from below against the backdrop of an immensely vast blue sky… feeling overcome by a sense of awe and peace. Nature has a way of humbling us humans… the mills set out to ‘harness’ wind-energy appear to ‘bow’ instead to all that the wind denotes. It was intriguing to ponder why it was ‘three’ windmills and not more or less – perhaps it was as was seen by the poet – or could also be linked to the number 9, which is considered a complete, perfect and divine number because it represents the end of a cycle in the decimal system… and in Hinduism, it is the number denoting Brahma, the Creator, a sacred number denoting completion, fulfillment and wisdom. This ku, in my reading, is an epitome of harmony, between nature and human creations and of divine will.
This poem can be interpreted in many ways: the aggressive spinning of the windmills is them saying/indicating that the wind is too strong. There is mystery (my mother says yugen) regarding what the windmills agree about – whether the wind is strong/light, warm/cold. The windmills also communicate.
Three people are agreeing about anything and everything bringing about a world of possibilities. They may be lumberjacks or yodelers or even farmers agreeing about the wind or windmills or some other topics of interest.
The first thing I found in this poem when I sat to write was that it was in inverted syntax. There’s assonance of the short i sound and long e sounds and it sounds lyrical.
Here I see many potential readings. In these huge plains, as we travel from countryside to countryside, we see windmills each a few feet apart, turning in the same clockwise direction. After many years, I witnessed this on my recent travel and I was fascinated. This duostich is an example of implied metaphor or metaphoric mapping. The poem could very well relate to three people gossiping (rumour mills) in agreement with each other. It could also be regarding three judges approving of the same scoring for a contestant, a legislative body agreeing to pass a bill, the doctors certifying brain death in a patient at the hospital, a group of specialists agreeing on a particular modality of further treatment for a long time patient, a group of children agreeing on the game to play that evening.
Why only three windmills? Could the poet only view three of them simultaneously? Why not a group of windmills? Were they too far to catch the poet’s eye? Or is three the minimum number to get the rumour mills running? Or is it only for the rhyme and lyrical quality?
If the poem was written about three decades earlier, it may have been about the three ‘superpowers’ of the world?
A power packed poem in nine syllables (I hope it’s okay to count syllables in this context).
In this couplet, two forces come together to create a third: moving air is harnessed by wind turbines to generate electricity. Air and machine work in perfect synergy to counteract the effects of climate change.
Mention windmills and the ghost of Don Quixote appears, eager to “tilt at windmills.“ But humans are absent here; it is just wind and three windmills working to produce light and heat. What Don Quixote imagined were evil giants to be slain are in this poem 21st-century servants of the wind, cooperating in a mechanical process to create clean energy.
Notably, no action takes place in these two lines; only the poet’s contemplation after she has witnessed a cluster of wind turbines at work. (Listen to the wind is it blows short and long I sounds – “wind/ three windmills agree.“
Also notable — there is poetry here. It emanates from the imagined “three windmills.” By virtue of its association with ‘lucky number three’ it evokes feelings of harmony, proportion and balance. Pythagoras’s conviction that three was a number of perfection gives added weight to the mystery and power associated with the number.
According to Wikipedia, Scotland, the poet’s home, is now nearly 100% fueled by renewable energy, mostly wind power. Are the “three windmills“ small home turbines attached to towers to catch the wind? If so, the revolving tops may look like spinning metal spirals or weathervanes. Or are they the familiar 20-story towers with three symmetrical blades, part of an onshore or offshore farm? The “three windmills“ seem to point to an intimate and manageable group of wind turbines, balanced and complete; harmonious.
Another poetic aspect, not associated with haiku, is the use of personification, as “three windmills agree“ to cooperate with the wind. If we consider all creation to be made of atoms in continuous motion, and thus conscious and alive, it is no stretch to accept the idea that “three windmills”might “agree “to be part of the renewable energy process. Don Quixote’s delusional attribution of evil to 17th century windmills now stands In contrast to “ three windmills agree(ing)” to serve the wind rather than exploit it. An unusual and inspiring haiku that quietly celebrates right stewardship of our imperiled planet.
Dan Campbell—an invisible force:
I wrote this analysis from the viewpoint of the wind:
As the wind, I hold the power to shape the world around me, carrying whispers and secrets from distant lands. Through my invisible touch, I caress the earth, bending trees and ruffling the surface of vast oceans. In this poem, I am personified as a sentient being, and I witness the unique perspective of three windmills who share their thoughts and observations.
The poem immediately establishes its focus and highlights the unity among the windmills. They stand tall and proud, spinning tirelessly in response to my gentle or fierce blows. This line suggests that these windmills recognize my presence and acknowledge the significant role I play in their existence.
The windmills, portrayed as individual voices, proceed to express their distinct viewpoints. Each windmill personifies a different aspect of the wind’s effects and interactions. The poet cleverly employs these windmills as symbols to represent various encounters with the wind and its impact on the world.
The first windmill describes itself as the “sower of dreams.” It is clear that this windmill represents the wind’s ability to inspire and evoke imagination. As I rustle through fields and whisper through city streets, I plant seeds of ideas and aspirations in the minds of those who encounter me. The windmill acknowledges this transformative power, as dreams take root and flourish under its watchful gaze.
The second windmill presents itself as the “herald of change.” Here, the windmill embodies the wind’s role in bringing about transformation and upheaval. As I gust through landscapes, I have the potential to reshape the physical and metaphorical world. The windmill stands tall, bearing witness to the shifting tides of time and heralding the arrival of new eras and possibilities.
Lastly, the third windmill declares itself as the “whisperer of tales.” It encapsulates the wind’s capacity to carry stories across vast distances. Like a messenger, I transmit tales and experiences from far-flung corners of the globe. The windmill acts as a conduit, listening attentively to the stories I convey, and relaying them to those who seek wisdom and enlightenment.
Through these windmills, the poem illustrates the diverse aspects of my nature and highlights the significant influence I exert upon the world. The windmills themselves serve as witnesses to the intangible and profound impact I have on the human experience. Whether sowing dreams, heralding change, or whispering tales, I am an invisible force that touches lives and shapes destinies.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. Indirect commentary though it may be, it is impossible not to be blown away by Dan Campbell’s fine contribution, as windmills yield to the wind. Dan 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!
Poem for commentary:beam by beam the old barn taken down to sky — Peter Newton The Heron's Nest Volume XXV, Number 2: June 2023
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Alas I was unable to track down an email for the poet; a message on Messenger remains unseen at time of writing; messages are blocked on her Twitter page. I would have liked to include her comments on the poem, as always. However, from bios on the web, where you may search and find several of her longer-form poems, Marie-Thérèse was formerly a librarian in Edinburgh, Fife and the North East of Scotland. She now lives in Glasgow. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Coastword’s Hotel, Glasgow Women’s Library’s Mixing the Colours, Federation of Writers Scotland’s Soundwaves, and online in Snare’s Nest and Nutshells and Nuggets, The Fat Damsel, Three Drops from A Cauldron and The Open Mouse, The Interpreter’s House, Glasgow Review of Books, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Lake, Algebra of Owls, Ofi Press, Under the Radar and Northwords. She has four children “who still talk to her,” and who she still frequently interrupts. Her haiku are hard to find in searches, which makes this one the more remarkable.
In comments last week, Alan Summers, who has devoted considerable attention to two-liners, applauded the appearance here two weeks running of the duostich “where there is no ‘3rd line’ crudely squashed into the 2nd line or even the first…” and added: “I’ll look forward to seeing the comments next Friday, on whether people ‘get’ duostich for various reasons.”
I see no reason to quibble with the duostich. The Japanese normally write their haiku and senryu on one line. The customary three lines of a translation into English, and the adoption of that form in English Language Haiku, is no more or less than a convention. As with longer form poetry, some structure can add to, and set off, a poem but when the structure dominates and forces changes in a poem to fit a structure it can, and often does, lead to deformation of meaning, or to redundant padding, or to the choice of a less apt word to fit. I think that a poem generally finds, or urges, its own form to suit it. If readers don’t already know it, Denise Levertov’s article Some Notes on Organic Form is a thriller. In the case of haiku and senryu, we frequently — but not always — have two (usually asymmetric) parts juxtaposed and related around a ‘cut’ of some sort, and one could argue that the most likely natural form in English is, in fact, a line for each part: a duostich. But form follows function, and if a poem is better laid out in one line, two, three or even four, and otherwise meets many of the aspects of haiku, within the brevity of a breath, then we can admire a form well suited to the content as part of the haikuist’s craft.
You may enjoy David Grayson’s article of 2015 in Frogpond, Writing Haiku: The Two-Line Form, and Alan has written on the subject, too, e.g. in the forum here, and the first issue of his Pan Haiku Review (free to download) carries a load of material and many examples.
Until Kala Ramesh brought it up at the Triveni website, I didn’t know of John Carley’s ‘other’ form of two-liner, the zip haiku. Basically fifteen syllables in English over two lines, with each line containing two parts with a gap or caesura between them. They are interesting…. try:
https://sites.google.com/site/worldhaikureview2/whr-archives/zip-form (I’m afraid the text is all broken into pieces too, but not difficult to put together)