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, chosen by Jonathan Epstein, was:rainy day - only one umbrella stops by the forsythia — Tomislav Maretic haikuNetra issue 1.4, December 9, 2023
Introducing this poem, Jonathan writes:
In this verse — at once a movie scene, a narrative segment, an impressionist painting —a single, unidentified person walking in the rain stops to take in a sign of spring’s miraculous return, a yellow forsythia. I marvel how a single word— umbrella — turns this into poetry and the poem’s elements combine to transmit such strong emotion. Why is that so?
A gentle haiku in the tradition of the poet (or proxy) virtuously pausing to contemplate a natural beauty, in this case a scrubby unkempt shrub that grows like a weed, but that redeems itself with perhaps the earliest burst of vibrant yellow in the spring. The poet suggests a crowd by means of “only one,” and that others, the unawakened who scurry by, are the norm. If you are a gardener, you may infer that the poet/proxy himself is an ordinary person with the capacity to blossom.
Whether “umbrella” by itself suggests a rainy day and some other version of L1 might have added to the poem, is moot. Specific mention of “rainy day” suggests more than a moment; and also puts a reader in a sombre mood. So whether stopping by the forsythia is a joy or a comfort is left open, but the hint is towards comfort in the midst of gloom.
Two poems ago we had the animism of a dragon cloud; and last week the possible personification (or not) of a carousel horse straining. Here, we don’t have personification of the umbrella. It is a metonymy standing for the person carrying it. Moreover, this is a device hallowed in the Japanese tradition. We have, for example:even if it does not rain
they plant on bamboo planting day —
a straw raincoat and a rain-hat (Basho)
spring rain —
a raincoat and a rain-hat
talk to each other (Buson)
a boat and the shore
are talking together —
lengthening days (Shiki)
Rain! From the UK rain seems to be our favourite topic of conversation, too much, too little, and how we love to describe it mizzle, drizzle… yet of course we don’t really have what many others around the world would call real rain. But what so often happens wherever you are in the world rain keeps us inside or hurrying through it! In this way the rain amplifies the modern human condition to rush or hide, to avoid the ‘world’ and shut off our senses. Here one umbrella, one sensitive soul is stopped by the beauty of forsythia in the rain. How often the rain makes the world more vivid, if only we stop to notice. A frantic city environment is evoked here by the emphasis on ‘only one umbrella’. We imagine then a filmic scene of a city, perhaps somewhere in Europe, a sea of umbrellas in motion and then the pause when one person, we wonder about them, perhaps a shift worker, a young mother, a student, a banker, a cleaner…. lets nature into their life, the romantic epiphany that has assaulted many before them. The vivid yellow of the forsythia flowers we assume are bursting through and announcing early spring. So are these too April showers bringing forth renewal and regeneration. The final line dismisses the drab assumption of rain soaked city streets and heralds new life and hope.
This is an image anyone can visualise, especially watching the road below from the balcony above or even watching the same road from a distance. The feet of the person too may then not be seen and so only the movement of the umbrella is followed. So essentially, the poet is referring to the person underneath/carrying the umbrella but it may also seem like the umbrella is being anthropomorphised.
My first reading of this was that on a rainy day, only one person with an umbrella stopped to admire the forsythia when all the others, immersed in worldly affairs, probably didn’t even notice a flower or even the plant, leave alone what type of flower (a four-petalled yellow forsythia) it is. In this reading, the poem grieves over the human way of life where we don’t consider the pleasures in little things. It reminds me of the poem ‘Leisure’ by W. H. Davies –
“WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—”
Then my haiku mind kicked in and said that the verse paints a melancholic picture. The rain all day in L1 refers to some sorrow… The scene is depicted in L2 & L3 where only one umbrella is seen halting at the forsythia…the reason is not revealed to us by the poet. Is it that the usual accompanying person is injured or ill, or suddenly no more (moved away/passed on)? How did they get injured, or what illness has befallen them? Where to and why did the person who was a daily companion move away? Was it following a quarrel or was it a peaceful move? Will the person be back sometime? If it was that the person expired, what happened so suddenly? Did this person know that this was coming? How has this person accepted all this? So much to ponder in this cross-section from a larger story.
Forsythia is a kigo word for mid-spring according to World Kigo Database. This would give a third meaning to the poem. A bloomed forsythia, drenched in rain, would be pendent, to support it’s reproductive organs. The verse shows only one person showing care, concern and compassion to the drooping flower. Likewise, when one is bogged down by grief and sorrow, the world goes about as usual just like any other day, there’s usually only that one person (or very few) who will reassure another in times of need.
There is so much going on in this sweet, clever poem.
I enjoy the whimsical approach that Maretic takes in making it seem like an umbrella is taking a walk in the rain and stopping to smell the flowers.
His use of a specific flower is also lovely. Forsythia are an iconic spring flower, yellow and growing on a somewhat tall bush. That way, we know the umbrella doesn’t have to stoop over to smell them. Forsythia are also prolific and sturdy, so can withstand a rainy day. I very much like that the writer chose a different flower than roses, which could have come across as cliche. By using forsythia instead, the reader has more to ponder.
The indentation sets apart L1 from L2 and L3. In doing so, Maretic makes a demarcation of nature and the world’s reaction to nature. The indentation also dovetails the meandering imaging of the poem.
Poetic sound is also used very well throughout this short poem. The long a assonance in L1 of rainy and day stretches that short line and gives it cohesion as well as length. The similar sounds at the start of one and umbrella in L2 gives it a bit of a bounce, which parallels the visual of an umbrella walking along the street. In L3 we have the softness in the word forsythia, with the breathy f, hiss of the s and gentle th. Those are inviting sounds that make the reader want to stop and linger, just like the umbrella-walker lingers at the flowers.
This is a very satisfying haiku.
A charming poem bringing hope and positivity into what may be a dismal situation or day. The opening line sets the kigo and the mood. It’s raining and people are on the move, going somewhere, coming from somewhere, under a sea of bustling umbrellas. Each one is apparently engrossed in getting somewhere ~ home, office, hospital, work.
Nature is always present to view, observe, appreciate, learn from, or be totally oblivious to. Ever present, it’s the backdrop to human activity.
The haiku presents an everyday modern scene where only one rare individual under that umbrella stops to look at, and breathe in the forsythia. A brief moment, perhaps, ‘to stop and stare’ and get uplifted.
The Welsh poet W. H. Davies wrote the poem ‘Leisure’, which famously begins: ‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’
Governed by worldly anxieties and worries caused by the challenges we face, the poet nudges us to stop, look and see and perhaps in that fleeting moment be joyful and at peace. A poem of contrasts between the ‘rain’ and ‘forsythia’, it offers a simple observation without the interference of poetic ego or comment.
The focus zooms from the wide angle
perspective of many umbrellas to just one! I’m glad that one umbrella ‘stopped’.
A wonderful write with the image of forsythia, foraying into deeper connotations.
Beginning in the first line, “rainy day ” —with a pause, implies the season, preparing the readers’ mind. It is obvious that umbrellas are essential to carry for immediate protection. The unusual crowd, off to work, and schools and colleges, a busy day inescapable; the second line, with the
prosaic statement, “only one umbrella stops” plainly says that the person who carries the umbrella has some motive; some intent. The third line “ by the forsythia” amplifies the writer’s image and content. Beautiful bushy yellow spring flowers, attract the person in the write. While the flow of humanity rushes with umbrellas, this person alone wants to stop and inspect, to review, and admire. Maybe she or he is again looking forward to a spring blossom in her/his life; to freshen up dead spirits, hence the stop by the forsythia.
I was reminded of a quote which alludes to a person sharing her experiences of grief by talking to forsythia (just one of the potential interpretations a reader might project):
“When we grant ourselves permission to grieve, we make the experience of grief something we recognize, something we welcome into our lives. We allow it to show up the way it wants to through feelings, identities, and actions. We write our own expectations and stories. Our grief becomes ours again and we become more ourselves again because we actively choose to experience grief.”
— Shelby Forsythia
Yet another thought-provoking, subtle write.
Nairithi Konduru (aged nine):
The word forsythia is the seasonal word for spring in this haiku. Forsythia is an ornamental Eurasian shrub whose bright yellow flowers appear in early spring before the leaves.
This poem could mean that it is a rainy day and as everyone goes home from work in a rush to get shelter from the rain. They miss the beauty of the forsythia but one person stops to admire it.
Or it could be a metaphor which is that it is a very sad day for someone and only one person tries to cheer them up.
I like this poem very much but have a couple of suggestions for it.
The dash at the end of line one? It looks as though the poet decided that an m-dash would be too great (it would) and has opted for a hyphen instead.
This is grammatically incorrect but also unnecessary. The gentle break of a line ending is all that’s needed in this poem.
In line two, I’m not keen on ‘only one’. Stephen Dobyns writes in his book ‘Next word, Better word’ : ‘A common form of rhetorical padding is the use of intensifiers…..these include words such as, still, even; some , yet, very, just, clearly, only……I use them all the time. And then, slowly, I take most of them out. Often they reflect the insecurity of a writer who worries that he or she hasn’t gotten the point across and so has added rhetorical emphasis.’ This underlining is an intrusion of the poet into the poem, which weakens it.
an umbrella stops
by the forsythia
takes the poet off the stage and makes a fabulous haiku (very Skiki-esque).
Tomislav Maretic is not alone in his loneliness on this rainy spring evening watching the interaction between unpredictable weather and unsuspecting fellow men about the small township he happens to be, at this ideal haiku moment served to us by Jonathan Epstein good natured fun.
The covert expressionism here is the modus operandi we may totally miss at first however sharp we reckon, our haiku trained minds can be, since all vital parameters are hidden from view yet masked in their own default claddings. For a start the first line, “rainy day -” with that significant cut leaves us free to visualize the time of the event. The day has been rainy for so long and by this time it has become a rainy day by all means, yet daylight still serves, now going into the closing hours. A day has only twelve daylight hours at the most and the “rainy day” with the trailing cut of the haikuist is a shortened form suggesting a prolonged session of rain. inevitably going into the evening.
Then the last line suggests spring time of the year by the mention of “by the forsythia.” It’s a flower that appears with spring. The poetical usage here has to be dual purpose, a shade of a sort where a lone bystander caught under incessant rain has been, and still is, waiting for the sun to come out or a bus to come along to rescue him (or her) at long last! But again forsythia is spring for a haikuist looking for that inevitable kigo and here’s one for the purpose in hand.
The middle line, “only one umbrella stops” forms the essence of the poem, the story said so impersonally and discreetly, of the aforesaid estranged soul, being rescued out of the frustrating predicament he/she has so far been in, on this day of spring which so unkindly turned tables on him (or her) alone.
Superficially the image provokes the reader to join up with the colourful moving scene with so many canopies of unfurled umbrellas roaming the street on all vectors as the rushing crowds run their errands on the way home, most probably, before day fades into twilight under persistent rain and the feeling of a cool atmosphere while the peace and quiet of a spring evening haunts, is a desire unrefutable.
The underlying reality of one exception among so many opportunities in life leading one to unspoken heartburn and hopelessness is the hard-earned wisdom one might dig out from the shallow depths within reach of anyone who cares to read this haiku one time too many (like me) after a couple of fruitless hours spent with it in a bit of frustration. A bit of frustration but not so much like the frustration of that poor soul stranded under ceaseless rain, by “the forsythia.”
Joshua Gage—tapping into a long poetic history:
A clear kigo–forsythia (rengyō)–grounds this poem in haiku tradition. Maretic’s focus on the rain and the umbrellas sets the scene and emotional focus for the reader: it’s wet enough for umbrellas, which would imply dark skies, dark weather, etc. There are many people, represented by the metonym “umbrella,” so we don’t even see them but the large, round shapes that represent them. The only human interaction, the only pause, is one umbrella stopping to observe the bright yellow forsythia flowers. And we, as readers, are asked to slow down our days and ponder the forsythia as well.
This poem is subtle in that it uses the images to imply more than it tells. This might be “ma” or “breathing room,” but it could simply be the careful selection of key images to provide only exactly what’s necessary and nothing more. This subtlety is further aided by the use of “forsythia,” a kigo that is known and mentioned in multiple saijiki. Forsythia are known not just for their color, but their light subtle smell, both of which seem to appeal to haiku authors in the past.
Because of the rain, we assume that the umbrella in this poem is stopping because of the bright yellow flowers, especially against the grey, wet weather. That contrast, paired with the vertical axis of the serenity and softness oft associated with forsythia in haiku, creates a surprising and satisfying juxtaposition for readers, clearly using a modern moment to tap into a longer poetic history.
Author Tomislav Maretic
I forgot to put my opinion on my haiku. That would be simple.
It is about my direct experience. Returning from Nikola Đuretić, also a haiku poet, one rainy spring among the multitude of umbrellas walking down the street was also mine. That umbrella stopped in front of a blossoming forsythia. I didn’t think beyond that at all.
Associations multiply, but I do not want to follow them, nor their scattered meanings. I’ve always been a fan of Alan Watts’ idea of a poem without words. About wordless poetry! About the direct poetry of nature. Of course, it’s nonsense if you try to take it literally.
Lastly I see structural observation of nature, as stated by Basho and Issa in their haiku:
weary from travel
I seek a lodging for the night–
the war lord
forced off his horse …
I didn’t think beyond the concrete experience. But if it is a pebble thrown into the lake of experience in which the circles expand. . . the better. . . Thanks to the commenters! For me, a rainy day is not gloomy, on the contrary, it is very evocative and full of mixed feelings. But in the springtime emptiness, how can you not notice the joy of the blossoming forsythia, which may offer us a flowery future.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Joshua 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 reactions to this challenge, and to finding out about your favourite poems.
Poem for commentary:I order lunch from my car into a speaker. Some days I have no idea what I want. Most days the window-kid doesn’t make a mistake. —Bruce Cohen, TEN SLOPPY HAIKU OF ORDINARY LIFE, Rattle 82, Winter 2023
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Received after deadline from Sam Renda:
“This is one of those delightful poems with multiple layers of meaning and contrast worked into its fabric.
First, we have the contrast between the moving crowd – the unseen but implied “other umbrellas” – and the one person who stops to look at the flowers, even on a rainy day. This image is poignant, reminding us that there is beauty to be found in everyday moments, and that it’s worth pausing to appreciate that beauty (or indeed, to write a brief poem about it!)
Another layer of contrast comes with the element of colour – the grey rainy day that contrasts sharply with the bright yellow of the Forsythia. In a world turned drab and washed out, your gaze could easily be pulled in by a gorgeous flower on the side of the path. Provided you remember to lift the edge of your umbrella to look.
Finally, we have the poet themselves, implicitly present. The extra person in the scene who themselves “stopped to look” and notice this small, slice-of-life moment while everyone else hurried past, eager to get out of the rain. And even if the poet themselves was the one who stopped, the poem still works. There’s still the act of observation, of noticing themselves taking this moment while others either don’t notice or don’t care to pause.
Tomislav Maretic does a wonderful job capturing these many layers of meaning in this single, elegant haiku, making it one that rewards time spent ruminating on it and re-reading.”
Tomislav Maretic’s bio may be read in Haikupedia here. He comments briefly on his approach and work on tobacco road. Some of his poems are featured at the World Haiku Review (2019) and as the Mann Library’s daily haiku poet in August 2023.
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