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 Lakshmi Iyer, was:opening the window to a moth and what's left of the moon — Sanjuktaa Asopa, A Hundred Gourds 1.4, 2012
Introducing this poem, Lakshmi writes:
The craft of a haiku poem is its structure/meter, weight of words, brevity, clarity and the relation between the poet and the poem, the level of consciousness in it. I could feel a sense of simplicity here, a feeling of oneness and a classic touch to the second line that has so much of yugen in it. Either you can read it as a single line or each as a separate identity as well. The poet has poised her senses and this is what attracted me. I think I should allow the readers to open the window themselves and experience the moth and the moon.
Within a single, one-breath sentence, an artful asymmetric arrangement of three different elements: the foreground moth and the distant sickle moon either side (as I would take it) of the window that separates them. They are bound together by a sense of dark mystery, sadness and foreboding tempered by receptiveness. The verse creates a vivid picture, with plenty of allusions on which the reader can play.
I assume a late summer night (although there can be daytime moths and a day moon), with the summer season word “moth” modifying the “moon” that otherwise defaults to autumn. We don’t know for certain whether the moth is on the outside coming in or on the inside being let out: I prefer the latter reading, for the spatial balance it produces. By “opening the window” the poet is allowing this fellow creature its freedom to seek the light of the moon, and at the same time moonlight enters the room.
Opening the window removes a barrier to receptiveness and enlightenment as well as allowing the little fluttering moth its freedom to seek its own light, and by association the poet. We may imagine the poet’s heart fluttering a little, too, in thrall to the scene. However, there is more than a hint of mystery/yugen and also of transience and exhaustion. The moth’s attraction to the light may be associated with doom as well as with a vain search for enlightenment (it cannot hope to consummate with the moon); a sense reinforced by “what’s left of the moon.” For the poet as well as the short-lived moth, time is running out, and given the unreachable moon’s symbolic association with love and the feminine, perhaps the poet’s opportunity for love, or capacity for love, is also diminishing. Opening the window helps to appreciate that which remains.
Photography is a hobby that I enjoy so I tried to analyze this poem from the viewpoint of a photographer.
In this poem, the poet evokes a vivid image that resonates with a photographer’s perspective. The act of “opening the window” signifies a deliberate and careful action, akin to composing a photograph. The moth and the remaining sliver of the moon represent ephemeral subjects, much like the fleeting moments photographers strive to capture.
The juxtaposition of the moth and the moon highlights the interplay between nature and the celestial, echoing the photographer’s constant search for intriguing contrasts. The metaphorical significance of the moon being “left” suggests a sense of transition or transience, which photographers often seek to portray in their images.
The poem’s brevity mirrors the power of a single, well-composed photograph. Just as a photographer captures a vast scene in a single frame, the poet distills complex emotions and visuals into succinct lines.
The poem captures the essence of a photographic moment, reminding us of a photographer’s endeavor to encapsulate emotion, beauty, and meaning in a single frame.
Now this poem reads like part of a sentence, the middle of a story. It opens with a verb and has some alliteration. However, the mention of moth and then moon makes me contemplate.
I first read it as a window being opened at night, maybe anticipating some fresh cool air on a hot summer’s day (moth being a kigo for all summer), only to find a moth entering into the room and maybe the faint light from a crescent moon (here, moon may be taken as a summer one since there’s already a summer reference).
Moths may be active at any time of the year. However, many species are most active during the spring and summer months.
In another reading, I visualised a morning where the window was opened and a moth set itself free and there was either no moon in the place it had been sighted the previous night or there was a day moon lurking around.
Day-flying moths in UK are active during the day and tend to fly when it is warm and sunny- similar to butterflies. Many of them are also brightly coloured like their close relatives, and without knowing some subtle differences, they may be mistaken for butterflies.
This verse reminded me immediately of Ryokan’s (senryu):
The thief left it behind:
at my window.
Tr. Stephen Mitchell
where the moon has been likened to enlightenment.
Similarly, here in this poem, the poet is inviting another of the creation inside the room, accepting it as a part of the creation or ecosystem or as being one with her or one with us homo sapiens and hence concluding that she’s accepting all the parts of herself that still remains as herself, with this reaching a state of enlightenment that is achieved with accepting oneself and all of creation as one.
The imagery in this short poem gets my attention. The three images of the window, a moth and the moon stand in contrast, yet there’s a synergy to them as well. Having just listened to Keith Evetts’ Pea Podcast on Toriawase this summer, this approach to haiku is top-of-mind for me.
It is not uncommon to think of a window, a moth and a moon occupying the same space. But they have such different functions that it’s a bit unusual. A window creates a passway from the outside in, whether it’s a visual passway or linkage, or it’s by letting air, rain or whatever pass through. In this case, there’s clearly no screen in the window to allow for the moth to go in or out, and that detail adds another element to the picture.
A moth usually lives outside, but all-too-often, comes inside and seemingly never leaves. A moth’s function is to pollinate, but other moths create tiny holes in woolen items and create an annoyance in summer months as their shadow casts on the ceiling when they dance toward the light, just out of reach.
The moon’s function is to gently light the night, alter the tides, create a place for astronauts to explore, change moods and inspire poetry. The moon also creates a sense of time by its orbit and change of shape throughout the month. Additionally, the moon offers a sense of perspective as it appears to be enormous when close to the horizon and rising, but smaller when overhead in its arc. We know intellectually that the moon is constant in its size, but when it’s closer and larger, the magnetic pull to gaze at it increases and hooks us deeper.
The movement in this poem is also powerful for me. The act of opening the window harkens a feeling of opening up, of letting go, of being open to the new. A powerful way to open the poem. I am uncertain whether the open window lets the moth out or in, but if the poet’s life is anything like mine, it’s in. The poet doesn’t say “the moon” but rather gives such a concrete picture of the phase of the moon by the words “what’s left of the moon.” That’s my very favorite part of this haiku.
The synergy of the three objects – the window, the moth and the moon – is where the power of the poem truly lies. In my mind’s eye, I can see the hands lifting the window. I can feel the night breeze blowing back the curtains as the moth flits in to dance on the night in the sliver moonlight. I can stand beside the poet and notice the moth dancing and the crescent moon shining, framed in the window … and feel a sense of awe and wonder.
I appreciated the imagery in this haiku. Living in the woods, I know at this time of year if I open my window, an assortment of moths will undoubtedly come in. For this reason, I only open the windows with screens, wanting to ensure the moths can continue their nocturnal journeys. The addition of allowing the moon to enter provides a touch of familiarity. I can almost imagine a moth and the moon slipping through the window, joining the observer in a cozy home.
Well chosen! This ‘chronometric’ haiku serves, though discreetly, the purpose of telling what time of day it is! And I prefer to call it a chronometric haiku: something I had not heard anyone saying before.. But then, in re:Virals one has the liberty to sound “silly” too, I suppose.
The poet is opening her window at night and sees a waning old moon out there. This haggard moon is at the most comfortable observing angle, in the middle of his field of view, hence suggestive of an ascending angle between 30 to 45 degrees above his visible horizon. This angular position takes us to a time range between 2 and 4 hours past midnight and we may guess a local time of about 3 hours anti-meridian, when this month took off through an open window of a haikuist’s peaceful abode, for a destination untold.. Yet my unsafe guess is that it might try for the Moon hanging out there with dimmed landing lights for our little fragile moth plane! There was indeed an airplane called “Tiger Moth” which early aviators flew. It may well not be able to fly to the moon, but a poet’s imagination can propel a nocturnal moth caught criss-crossing the airspace of his bedroom even as far as the moon, or what’s left of it!
Now, if I may return to the Orient for a moment, and closer home, to the Indian sub-continent, this pre-dawn hour of a new day is known as the “brahma murthy” in Hindu vedhic astrology, as the most favourable time slot for meditation and deep study of spiritual subject matter since it’s when the human mind is in most tranquil and crystal clear state capable of reaching the deepest levels of realization of the Truth, of Nature and of Being. In Buddhist parlance this is the time the Bodhisathva or aspiring Buddha attained, through “samma samadhi” the noble path of enlightening meditation, the all knowing Supreme Buddhahood.
In between East and West, in the Mideast, it was one post-midnight hour of a silent night, a holy night, those biblical three wise men, Seers through Astrology (again!), followed the Star and. found out that a Saviour of mankind had been born.
I may have been meandering much too boldly, I guess, from what could have been in the mind of the poet who penned these thought-provoking three lines, but even then I am rather glad that she didn’t just let that irritating tiny moth go scot free out of the window and resume a good night’s sleep, but let all of us share the extraterrestrial view through her (haiku) window.
A solitary mood; a somber scene, a sense of loneliness from life’s impermanence. A few days before the dark moon, outside a just-opened window, a moth flutters, ready to fly to the full moon glow of the lightbulb that has attracted it.
Three images — the opening window, the fluttering moth, the waning moon — convey a strong sense of wabi-sabi; a sumi-e painting of evanescence and mystery.
The presence of the moth (summer kigo) indicates the sun has set. The moon is nearing the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Autumn may be around the corner, a propitious time for rest, regeneration, and reflection before the next cycle brings new awareness and growth.
Opening the window removes a barrier that separates internal and external worlds. With the open window, as in traditional Japanese homes with sliding doors, interior and exterior flow into each other. A unity of opposites, a subtle kind of fullness given the spartan external environment.
“…to a moth and what’s left/ of the moon” had me scratching my head. It’s as if only the full moon counts, and now that the glow of life’s fullness is at its symbolic nadir, the poet is left with only remnants of joy —“what’s left of the moon.” The abundance of her full moon period has waned. The decrease in life’s emotional bounty appears to have left a landscape devoid of meaning or value. Yet the thin band of moonlight —“what’s left of the moon”— is part of a natural cycle, a phase given to reflection valued by any contemplative soul. Summer may be ending, but autumn has its own richness and perfection. What may look lonely and transient on the outside becomes a softly luminous moment for the poet; and if we immerse ourselves in this haiku, a luminous moment for ourselves as well.
Beata Czeszejko — seeing wisdom in imperfection:
The Moon, the moth and insomnia… are frequent phenomena that accompany us at night. Why are we not sleeping? It can even be irritating… Why do we not sleep on bright nights, on nights when we meet the Moon in the window?
The Moon is our companion in the dark zone of our existence. It is also a symbol of everlasting change – due to the constant, renewing transformation of the image – from a round, shiny disc – to a narrow, silver crescent, up to 3 days when the moon is not seen.
We know that moths too appear as a symbol of transition and transformation (e.g. in Celtic and Slavic mythology). They were not only associated with death, but also with the difficult transition from the time of life to the period of death.
Here the motif of the Moon and of the moth appear — together — two signs of transformation in life. This seems to me the most important: they occur in the haiku simultaneously and they are taken at once to the inner sphere, to the space of heart.
We see a stunning and surprising picture of coming to terms with the changes, even meeting with phenomenon of death. Those changes in life may be necessary. And another question — why didn’t the author show a butterfly and a full day moon in all their beauty? There are things in images that are uglier and they are less than perfect: the moth, a brown and grey insect, and “something that’s left”, the rest of the Moon. The mood slowly becomes unsettling while reading. But “All that glitters is not gold” – says the proverb and there is a lot of truth in its inverted meaning. The beauty of images is the beauty of imperfect things — those things that we encounter every day — like the moth, like a piece of the Moon.
And yet I should write about a thing that make me anxious – about death. The moth and what’s left of the Moon are symbolic of approaching death – it is perceived as a disaster, sufferings and the end of life. However it may not be positive and difficult as death is, it is something that will always come; sometimes it can free us from suffering. And the author welcomes both the moth and the rest of the Moon to the house, to the poet’s inner space. Not perfect, not the most beautiful but the obvious part of our life – death.
It is a difficult haiku but it is a pearl – a haiku which differs from many other poems. We can see in imperfection a wisdom.
Author Sanjuktaa Asopa:
Though written quite a while back, I remember this verse was based on direct observation as most of my poems are. That night the moon, probably in its waning phase, was barely a smudge of silvery-white, not unlike the fluttering tiny white moth that entered as soon as i opened the window. Both were so beautiful yet so transitory. The moon would keep on waning and disappear completely in a few days, so would the moth which passed through several phases to reach the adult stage but not for long. Very soon it too would turn to dust. It seemed as if together they brought me a message from the universe to enjoy the evanescent moments while we could.
I must confess though that all these thoughts came much later. While I wrote the lines, they were just a faithful recording of the moment.
I am waiting eagerly to hear how the readers interpret this verse.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Beata 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:near-miss asteroid sometimes I wish it wouldn't miss —Tracy Davidson Failed Haiku, Volume 8, Issue 91 July 2023 (first published in Haiku In Action)
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Dan’s commentary: I think the practice of haiku shares some aspects with photography, and with, for example, sketching watercolours in the field. First you get out there, then you slow down and contemplate, through a restricted frame or page, the essence of the scene to be captured or conveyed. As you get things in focus you become aware of many details or relationships that you would not have noticed without the intensity of concentration and thought. You see, or compose, asymmetries and juxtapositions within the frame; zoom in or out, and emphasise an aspect you want to bring out. I quite often come across photographs and think: that’s a haiku!