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re:Virals 447

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 Alan Harvey, was:

     desert cliffs
     the shadow of a raven 
     carries dad home
     — Bruce H. Feingold
       To Live Here: A Haiku Anthology, 2023

Introducing this poem, Alan writes:

The raven is a fascinating subject. “Desert cliffs” are the setting for not just a raven, but “the shadow of a raven”. Raven stories are in the mythologies and serve as symbols from many cultures around the world. Native American tales have raven the trickster bringing fire to the people and acting as spiritual guides. Poe’s raven is a harbinger of death. Ravens are viewed as psychopomps in certain mythologies. Maybe re:Viral commentators will respond with different cultural perspectives to “carries dad home”.

Opening comment:

A fine poem, “desert cliffs” instantly evoking associations of harsh, dry, lifeless, vertiginous rock in the sun; the shadow of a raven denoting not so much the bird itself, its black plumage and uncompromising diet connoted with omen and death, but its shadow, its spirit; and the animism through the last line that is more deeply rooted in our primitive human psyche than we like to think, and that tends to resurface in us at portentous moments like these, the death of our father.

What struck me on reading this, another that made the long list in the Touchstones recently announced, was its ring of authenticity: makoto. These days, especially in responses to haiku prompts, one sees many verses that may or may not have been “got up” for the occasion. It’s likely that we’ve all done it. But this one, with its sense of place and its images, immediately comes across as a real observation. It is so often the case that authentic haiku, whether from present and direct observation, or from acutely clear memories revisited, are somehow recognisable and carry greater impact than ones that are the pure product of imagination and projection.

Lakshmi Iyer:

Multi scenic images in all the three lines with actions and the result of grief for the poet’s father. Desert cliffs; the temperatures rising either for good or bad. The ravens hovering around the cliffs for good or for bad and yet they cover the pathway of the dead body from the danger.   Each line has a storyline:  “desert cliffs” set the backdrop of a journey to the toughest part geographically and then “the shadow of a raven”  escorting line three “carries dad home” to safety!

Sometimes we try hard to get such amazing verses and here is one of the finest poems to just sit and take as a memoir. Desert cliffs – the sun is hot and bright. A raven hovering with its shadow circulating… father being carried away.  A haiku poem is one-fourth revealed and three-fourths for the readers to think deeply.

Melissa Dennison:

What a fabulous poem! When I read it I can see the majestic desert cliffs rising out of an otherwise flat landscape.

This poem speaks to me of time, juxtaposing the deep time of the desert cliffs with the fleeting shadow of a raven. It is both evocative and eloquent and speaks to me of the biggest topic, that of life and death, of the transient nature of our existence. It could be bleak but it doesn’t feel it. The last line suggests warmth and hope, since dad is being carried home. Somewhere special where he can rest and be at peace. It’s beautiful. There is so much meaning in so few words.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

The vast space of nothingness and extreme dry heat of the desert and the height of the cliffs in the desert are cleverly juxtaposed with the ominous sign the ravens are ascribed with and the height of the ravens’ flight.

Cliffs are usually formed from erosion and weathering. Weathering happens when natural events, like wind or rain, break up pieces of rock. The elevations of the Vermilion cliffs in Arizona range from 3,100 to 7,100 feet.

The ravens are common birds in some countries. Common ravens (Corvus corax) soar. In Tibet, they have been recorded at altitudes up to 5,000 m (16,400 ft), and as high as 6,350 m (20,600 ft) on Mount Everest. In winter, especially, it is a scavenger and feeds on carrion, dead fish, and garbage. Long before it was immortalized in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven,” the common raven was a near-universal symbol of dark prophecy—of death, pestilence, and disease

Vidya Premkumar:

This senryu by Bruce H. Feingold, found in “To Live Here: A Haiku Anthology,” elegantly captures a fleeting moment that bridges the natural and the emotional, suggesting a depth of narrative within its concise form. Reading it through various literary lenses enriches our understanding and appreciation of its subtle complexities.

From a formalist perspective, the poem’s structure and imagery are tightly interwoven, characteristic of traditional Japanese senryu. The juxtaposition of “desert cliffs” and “the shadow of a raven” against the personal and emotional “carries dad home” creates a stark and impactful contrast. This contrast not only emphasizes the vast, impersonal landscape but also introduces a hauntingly intimate element through the shadow and the mention of ‘dad,’ evoking a sense of journey or return.

A psychoanalytic reading might delve into the symbolism of the raven and its shadow. Ravens often symbolize death or transformation in literature and mythology. The shadow of the raven in this context could be interpreted as the embodiment of the speaker’s grief or memory of his father—carrying not just the physical being but also the emotional and psychological weight of the father’s absence. The use of the word “shadow” might suggest the lingering presence of the father in the speaker’s subconscious, influencing and accompanying the journey home, whether it be a return to a literal place or a metaphorical return to a state of acceptance and peace.

From an ecocritical standpoint, the poem emphasizes the relationship between humans and the natural environment. The desert cliffs and the raven are not merely backdrops for personal reflection but active elements in the narrative. The natural world is portrayed as both witness and participant in human emotional experiences. This interaction reflects a belief in the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, suggesting that our understanding of home and belonging is inherently linked to our surroundings.

A post-structuralist approach might focus on the ambiguity and openness of the poem’s language. The phrase “carries dad home” leaves much to interpretation: Is it a metaphorical journey influenced by the raven’s flight, or is it invoking a spiritual or supernatural act? The poem defies a single, authoritative reading, instead offering multiple interpretations that depend on individual readers’ contexts and experiences.

Integrating a linguistic reading enhances this multi-dimensional analysis. The choice of words such as “desert cliffs” and “shadow of a raven” juxtaposed with “carries dad home” utilizes the language to evoke significant emotional resonance. Linguistically, the poem employs simple, yet powerful, words that each carry layers of meaning. The verb “carries” in the final line, combined with “home,” denotes a movement back to a place of origin or comfort, perhaps suggesting a journey’s end. This line, personal and evocative, shifts the narrative from the vastness of nature to the intimacy of personal memory and emotion, encapsulating the journey of grief or remembrance.

Each literary theory offers a unique lens through which we can explore the depths of this brief but rich poem, revealing how even the shortest of verses can carry vast emotional landscapes within them. Through this analysis, we see how Feingold’s senryu invites us into a moment of poignant reflection through its vivid imagery and layered meanings, demonstrating the profound capability of poetry to convey complex human experiences in a remarkably condensed form.

Dan Campbell—transient life, transcendental death:

In the barren landscape of desert cliffs, where the sun’s relentless gaze etches the land with its fiery touch, there exists a scene of profound significance. Here, amidst the rugged terrain, a lone raven glides in the wind, casting its shadow upon the ancient rocks below.

Within the silhouette’s embrace lies a story, a story of love, loss, and the unbreakable bond between father and son. The haunting shadow carries with it the weight of memories, of moments shared beneath the endless expanse of the sky.

As the raven’s shadow stretches across the barren landscape, it becomes a conduit for the spirit of a father making his final journey home. In its dark silhouette, there is a sense of closure, of completion. The raven, with its wings spread wide, becomes a vessel for the soul of the departed, guiding him back to the embrace of the earth.

And so, the shadow of a raven becomes a poignant reminder of the transient nature of life, and the enduring power of love and memory to transcend death.

Author Bruce Feingold:

My dad died last March at 104 years and a half years old and lived a long and fascinating life. He lived the last several decades in the Palm Springs area in California with views of the Santa Rosa Mountains from his home, which is a desert range with dramatic rugged cliffs and startling blue skies.

My wife and I were with him the last week of his life, and after he died we  took long walks at the base of these mountains where we watched ravens riding the thermals with startling shadows against the dry, sharply carved landscape.

My dad was cogent and active until the very end, and he knew his body and spirit was finally letting go.  In the last days, when the dying process accelerated, several times Dad called out, “I want to go home.”

My love of my dad and the blessing of being with him at the end of his life, led to this haiku.

fireworks image

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

     the river
     changes key
     — Lee Hudspeth
       Heron’s Nest, March 2024

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.


I adore Vidya’s beautifully written commentaries with the eye of an eagle.  And Dan’s powerful, engaged and pertinent prose! Hard to choose — the task I like least..

Bruce Feingold’s profile is here, along with some of his haiga and shahai. You may see more detail and more of his works on his website.

Authenticity and imagination in haiku: too big a subject to address here; and one that can stray into very contentious territory when imagination steals someone else’s reality. Authenticity is a useful pole star for navigation.
Something else to bear in mind when writing and revising verses.

Raven: bird of omen, not always negative: by way of digression, meet the six esteemed ravens who guard the kingdom at the Tower of London, Jubilee, Harris, Poppy, Georgie, Edgar, Branwen and Rex.
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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. ” . . . meet the six esteemed ravens who guard the kingdom at the Tower of London, Jubilee, Harris, Poppy, Georgie, Edgar, Branwen and Rex.”

    And also meet the Raven Master! 🙂 Surprising, to me, and then not so surprising. Also, I appreciate the kindness and the humour of the tradition.

    I like Bruce Feingold’s haiku very much (why anyone would call it a senryu is beyond my ken) and Dan Campbell’s commentary.

    desert cliffs
    the shadow of a raven
    carries dad home
    — Bruce H. Feingold

    Both shadow and the father who has died are insubstantial in the sense of not having physical existence. ‘Home’, then, becomes the destination of the soul, not the body. The shadow of a raven, here, becomes the chariot referred to in the well-known African-American song or hymn, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ :,_Sweet_Chariot,_Sweet_Chariot

    ” Specifically, the text refers to the Old Testament account of the Prophet Elijah’s ascent into Heaven by chariot.[1]”

    There are ravens in Australia, too, but not the same kind. They are very intelligent birds.

    1. Thank you, Lorin.

      How could I have missed “comin’ for to carry me home?!” Swing Low is the home rugby fans’ anthem at Twickenham, where England women face Ireland in the Six Nations this afternoon.

      I enjoyed reading about your corvids and imagining their conversations in Strine. They are indeed very intelligent birds; I think it must be their shocking diet and harsh cry that has led to the omens being attached to them, where the sweet-singing blackbird escapes calumny. I enjoy watching corvids around our feeders: yesterday evening there were five carrion crows, a magpie, two jays and a jackdaw jostling over suet and peanuts.

      I guess the technical absence of a kigo might have suggested to Vidya that this should be classed as a senryu. I would differ, but the academic taxonomy of poetry is somehow of less relevance to me than the taxonomy of living things that led a questioning Darwin to evolution…

      1. “. . . I guess the technical absence of a kigo might have suggested to Vidya that this should be classed as a senryu.” – Keith

        But Keith, we don’t have kigo in E.L. haiku.
        Yes, I know there are certain people prancing about declaring this is a kigo and that is a kigo in reference to EL haiku, but these people don’t read or speak Japanese. (Neither do I, btw)

        In English, the closest we can come to kigo is ‘seasonal reference’, but, just to confuse things, there are also, in Japan, ‘muki kigo’ (‘no season kigo’ or ‘all seasons kigo’. . . a paradox?) I’d lay odds that ‘shadow’ would be in the ‘all seasons’ category of a saijiki associated with Japan’s ‘ Modern Haiku Association’

        Even the author of the closest thing we have to an EL saijiki, William J. Higginson, wisely & politely chose to call his book ‘Haiku World — An International Poetry Almanac. Not a ‘saijiki’.

        Anyway, I’d lay odds that the word ‘shadow’ would be in the ‘all seasons’ category of a saijiki associated with Japan’s ‘ Modern Haiku Association’ .

        “In the early part of the 20th century, there were a number of Japanese poets, such as Kawahigashi Hekigoto, Ogiwara Seisensui, Noguchi Yonejiro, Taneda Santōka, Ozaki Hōsai, Nakatsuka Ippekirō, and Ban’ya Natsuishi who were less concerned about some traditions of haiku such as the inclusion of kigo. Some, like Hekigoto and Seisensui, actively opposed the insistence on kigo, but even they often included kigo in their haiku. ”

        “There are some reformers who have made suggestions such as using the idea of keywords (which would include kigo as a subset). Keywords are words such as dawn, birthday cake, ocean wave, beggar or dog, with strong associations, but which are not necessarily associated with a particular season. Birds that do not migrate, such as pigeons or sparrows, are additional examples of non-seasonal keywords. ”
        Hmm, so now I’ve googled “Do American ravens migrate?”
        And the answer is, no they don’t. (Neither do Australian ravens) So maybe ‘raven’ is a keyword and ‘shadow’, also? Both “all seasons” season words? (I don’t know.)

        1. Just for the sake of mischief: ‘woodpecker’ is held to be a seasonal ref for autumn, and indeed we see the green woodpecker around here most often in that season when they’re visible on the ground eating ants. But they aren’t migratory. They can be seen here throughout the year — as can the greater and lesser spotted woodpecker each of which takes up seven syllables did they but know it. The woodpecker’s characteristic headbanging sound is a feature of spring…(their brains are full of tau protein also associated with dementia). {{{{woodpecker}}}}

          I think that well-intentioned as they may be, attempts to classify verses into tight little categories often cause more problems than they resolve. And periodic worthy efforts to compile strict saijikis for ELH don’t seem to catch on, do they?

          1. …and then there’s climate change. After a warm March in S.E. England, the climbing roses in our front garden started blooming earlier this month in a chilly April, unaware that they are a keyword/kigo/season ref for summer.

      2. ‘…the home rugby fans’ anthem at Twickenham, where England women face Ireland in the Six Nations this afternoon.”
        🙂 I saw something about that on ABC News last night. (They didn’t mention the anthem, though)

        1. They played well! A monster score. I didn’t hear ‘Swing Low’ though, which you’d hear when the men’s team play there.

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