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re:Virals 450

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 Maurice Nevile, was:

silent sky
the wedge-tailed eagle
takes its time
—Hazel Hall
From Eggshell Sky (2017, author): haiku by Hazel Hall

Introducing this poem, Maurice writes:

Here the poet seems to break the ‘show don’t tell’ principle, but with great effect, allowing us to wonder and picture just how and why the eagle ‘takes its time’, and on the nature of that ‘silent sky’. The poem is from an exquisite and moving book collecting the poet’s writing, with calligraphy, and also artwork by a group of people living with Parkinson’s. My choice was motivated by my long-held love of flying (even long haul!), my academic aviation research, and watching birds and aircraft in flight. Indeed I once had a series of long and elaborate dreams in which I could fly by holding out my arms and willing myself into the sky, controlling my flight by turning my palms this way and that. I remember waking with the joyful momentary thought that I could indeed fly. We are fortunate in Australia to have many large birds, even in the suburbs (cockatoos, galahs, rosellas and parrots), and the magnificent wedge-tailed eagle is a bird of prey distributed all across Australia. Where I live in Canberra, on a significant hill overlooking the city and beyond, there is a large sculpture of a wedge-tailed eagle on the edge of its nest, made from welded steel found-objects, mostly abandoned farm machinery.

Opening comment:

An atmospheric haiku for all seasons. The sky quietened; the majestic eagle soars without effort, its eye scanning for prey. Awesome. But more than that: this verse is framed in the Dao — the eagle is taking its right time, its right place in the  Creative.  It circles in untroubled ease.

Except for humankind, it is the predator at its zenith.

Technically, and unobtrusively, the gentle alliteration in lines one and three, and the harmonious cadence of the trochees, add to the smooth, open poetry of this exemplary,  quietly floating verse.

Dan Campbell:

This poetic tribute to the wedge-tailed eagle reminds me of the wisdom found in taking one’s time. With each beat of its wings, it glides effortlessly, riding the currents of air with a sense of tranquility.

As it soars higher and higher, the eagle does not succumb to the pressures of time or the demands of the world below. Instead, it remains steadfast in its journey, embracing each moment with quiet resolve.

In a society that values instant gratification and quick results, the eagle’s behavior stands in stark contrast. It teaches the importance of patience, of allowing things to unfold in their own time. For in the silence of the sky, where the only sound is the whisper of the wind, there is a lesson to be learned.

The phrase “takes its time,” is a reminder to slow down and to savor the moments as they come. So let us gaze upon the silent sky with reverence and learn from the eagle. For in its patient flight, we find not only beauty, but a profound understanding of the power of patience in our own lives.

Rupa Anand:

This poem speaks to me at two levels. Sheer spatial imagery and like any good haiku, a little more than just that.
L1 opens the curtains of the stage to reveal its content. The expanse of the sky, silent and quiet, perhaps clear blue, and cloudless. The ‘where’ of a haiku. The setting is expansive, enveloping me, the reader, in its space.

L2 places on stage its lone actor- a wedge-tailed eagle. The ‘what’ of the poem. Not any eagle but a specific one. Eagles are known to soar high, so we fly with the raptor higher into the blue. The poem takes me along. Upon googling, I learned it’s native to Australia (Tasmania) and is one of the world’s most powerful avian predators.

L3 engages me further. It offers the ‘when’. What happens when the eagle takes its time? With nothing to offer distraction in a ‘silent sky’ has it spied a prey (a rodent or lizard perhaps) and is taking its time to figure out the best swoop to nab its kill? Or as I would like to imagine, is it taking its time away from work and just enjoying the sheer act of gliding the sky, one with it?

Perhaps, at a human level, it offers a glimpse into what we as humans can do. Before embarking on any action, be equanimous, be quiet, and devoid of inner chatter, and voilà the action shall bring forth positive results. Secondly, it invokes the spirit of unhurried splendour in a world that has become incessantly noisy, loud and cacophonous.

Melissa Dennison:

Before reading this haiku I had never heard of a wedge-tailed eagle, and so I googled it. Thank you for expanding my understanding of the world, and Australian bird life in particular.

Initially this poem suggests calmness which is implicit in the first line ‘silent sky’. As I read further it feels like the moment before a happening, before something significant. Is the Eagle hunting? I can envisage he or she riding the thermals, maybe hovering as they take in the vast landscape below. Are they looking for a hapless little kangaroo?

Whilst the first line suggests a sense of calm to me, by line three I am feeling a little unsettled as I am thinking of what is to come. I know that nature involves killing and death but that doesn’t mean I accept that truth easily, or am comfortable with it. As an aside, I switched a natural history programme off recently as a chimp eyed up a passing monkey as potential prey.

It’s a great haiku, evoking time, place and anticipation of unfolding drama. I enjoyed the story this poem tells.

Lorin Ford—the suspense of a top predator:

Sometimes, in the country, things go too quiet. When the small sounds of creatures on the ground (rabbits, lizards, rats, cats, possums etc. going about their business) go silent, one looks up to the equally silent sky where it’s likely a Wedge-tailed eagle is gliding or flying, looking for its next meal to make a movement or a sound, or to be revealed as roadkill.

The Wedge-tailed eagle is a very large, predatory bird.  Wedgies can (and in the past, have) swooped down and snatched up new-born lambs, and were shot in farming districts, but are now a protected species. This bird can well afford to take its time: they have amazing ‘super eyesight’, way beyond human capabilities, and are strong flyers and gliders.

When this eagle appears, other birds, alone or in flocks, will quickly go elsewhere and let the Wedgie have the sky to itself, hence “silent sky”. There would be no flocks of parrots or budgerigars or, for that matter, any other bird in sight.  Inevitably, sooner or later, some creature will make a small movement or sound, and the Wedgie will dive down and snatch it, or the bird will spot a roadkill and claim it.

‘silent sky’, by Hazel Hall, is a classic haiku that invites readers to experience the suspense inherent in the general silence around the appearance of a top predator, the Wedge-tailed eagle.

Author Hazel Hall:

My sincere thanks to Maurice Nevile, whose own work I admire greatly, for nominating ’silent sky’ for re:Virals. I’d also like to thank our re:Virals editor, Keith Evetts, and all who contributed their insights.

Firstly the wee revision of a hyphen (wedge-tailed eagle) and many thanks for the opportunity.

This haiku was hatched when I first visited the Cootamundra Heritage Centre, New South Wales. There, perched in a glass case, was a magnificent wedge-tailed eagle. Immediately Tennyson’s poem flew through my mind. With its three tercets it is almost like a sijo sequence, ending in the words: ‘Then like a thunderbolt he falls’.

I wondered how this eagle fell. Not on its prey; possibly on a gunshot. Cootamundra is lambing country. As I gazed on the imprisoned raptor, never to be ‘ring’d with the azure world’ again, this haiku tumbled out.

Since then, I have visited the museum many times. It is filled with fascinating, and often, confronting exhibits. I have tried to photograph the bird, but it is huge, and the corner of the glass case is wedged into a corner. It always fills me with sadness. Wedged-tailed eagles have been an endangered species in New South Wales since the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1974.


fireworks image

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

     
whiteout
a crow reduced
to its caw
—Ben Oliver
 Presence issue 77, November 2023

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.


Footnote:

Hazel Hall is an Australian poet, musicologist, editor and international judge of short forms. Her recent collections are Step by Step, with tai chi master Angela Egan (Picaro Poets 2018), Moonlight Over the Siding with the late artist and geographer Robert Tingey (Interactive Press 2019), Severed Web with artist Deborah Faeyrglenn (Picaro Poets 2020), a verse drama Please Add Your Signature and Date it Here (Litoria Press 2021), and Breathe In, Breathe Out (Picaro Poets 2023). Due in 2024 are her collection of sonnets and hybrids A Hint of Rosemary, and Featherfall, a celebration of birds with prize-winning poet Moya Pacey and artist Leena Clark.


To refer with such affectionate familiarity to this awesome creature as a Wedgie won my heart…

Tennyson’s The Eagle was a boyhood favourite that I still know by heart:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Sijo: for this form, see https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sijo

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thanks again to re: Virals editor Keith Evetts, Maurice Nevile, and all who contributed their Comment and Post Comment insights. Yarragon is my heartland. I spent much time there as a child.
    Thank you Lorin and congratulations!

  2. ” Upon googling, I learned it’s native to Australia (Tasmania) “. – Rupa Anand

    Tasmania is the island state close to the bottom end of the Australian continent, below Victoria on the map. There are Wedge-tail eagles there, but a bit different to the continental Wedge-tails. Wikipedia distinguishes between the two. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge-tailed_eagle

  3. The alliteration with s and t sounds makes the verse seem like the flapping of the bird’s wings on a take-off.

    Wedge-tailed eagles spend much of their time sailing along, being quite stable and controlled even in strong winds.

    Apart from their long durations gliding and soaring on upswept wings, wedge-tailed eagles are not well known for vocalization and are not often heard. They may be silent for long stretches of time, possibly months, at least outside of breeding season. They take their time to vocalize. I thought silent sky and taking its time well-corresponded to this, after reading up from Wikipedia. It was lovely learning about this powerful predator.

    Vocalizations have been documented usually only near the nest and in aerial display, and can be hard to hear unless at close range.

    When we take our time to make a decision or to focus on a task and do whatsoever, we are silent. Similarly, the majestic wedge-tailed eagles soar in the sky, perhaps much more silently than we imagine.

  4. “Except for humankind, it is the predator at its zenith.” – Keith

    Indeed, “except for humankind”.

    Humans can be the sneakiest predators. I recall an ABC news story re the killing of hundreds of Wedge-tailed eagles in the worst, most despicable way: poisoning. That was on just one farm. Now I’ve dug it up on the internet.
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-24/man-poisoned-wedge-tailed-eagles-in-gippsland-jailed/10298426
    (To anyone who’s a bit squeamish, a warning: Don’t read it or look at the photos.)

    I was partly raised in East Gippsland…not this town in the news story, though, but down closer to the ocean. Shooting creatures for good reason was acceptable, but poisoning was considered despicable, whatever the creature.

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