Skip to content

re:Virals 452

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 Melissa Dennison, was:

     
open door
the fly makes
for a window
—Quendryth Young
 The Heron's Nest, Volume XXVI No 1, March 2024

Introducing this poem, Melissa writes:

Initially I chose this for its humour, as we all get these unwanted house guests every summer, no matter what we do. They can drive some of us to distraction, leading us to act in irrational ways. I have known people to shut themselves in a room with a fly, can of spray in hand determined to defeat that fly. So this haiku made me smile.

However, on re reading I sense the meanings are multilayered. We open a door for the fly to go out, but instead it chooses a window. This points to the inherent uncertainties of life. Life is not something we can control, and the fly represents this. How many times do we hear sayings like ‘the fly in the ointment’?  It’s that unexpected event that throws us off course.

Another meaning could be about our own unpredictability, how we may be indecisive or choose other paths that leave those around us scratching their heads. We can be as skittish and frustrating as the fly.

Opening comment:

Delightfully detached, open, and with an element of haikai humour that I value among the welter of subjectively engaged and conspicuously emotive verses around. There are many ways for a reader to picture this, but I think the most likely is that, of two possible exits, the fly apparently perversely chooses to attempt a window — that we assume is closed — rather than an open door. There is no clue as to a human agency, for example, someone who has opened the door and, in entering, frightened the fly, or has opened the door to help a trapped fly escape; but we are free to assume such if we choose.  The behaviour of a fly against the inside of a window pane is a common experience for us.  We tend to find it stupid, although most likely it is a question of the fly seeking the light as a likely escape route, not equipped to recognise and circumvent a man-made transparent barrier that covers the whole space when it bumps into one.

There’s more that can be read into the verse if we generalise from the fly to human behaviour: ignoring the obvious, logical thing to do in favour of perversely bashing our heads against a barrier again and again, or turning down a helping hand and obstinately sticking to our own,  independent  route to disaster.

Had his hut had glazed windows, Issa would have appreciated, and chuckled at, this excellent verse.

Pamela Garry:

I open the door to invite the fly to enter the outdoors. Perhaps the air is repelling the fly. Perhaps the fly sees the fly in the window’s reflection and yearns for companionship of self. Perhaps the fly has evolved to distrust humans. Oh, BTW, I am human. The fly and I trying to do no harm. Too often I shy away from open doors and stay on the inside of the window.

Lorin Ford:

Flies do this, both house flies and blowflies. It’s a common observation, especially in warm to hot weather. Having entered through the open door and reached the window, the flies often seem to be intent on suicide by knocking themselves out, banging against the glass. Why? I didn’t (don’t) know, so I Googled. Wikipedia gave me:

“The page “Why do flies bang against windows inside the house?” does not exist. ”

Other sources claim it’s a matter of air currents that the flies follow, or they’re attracted by the scent of food (on the window?), or they seek the warmth of the glass windows (even in high summer, in Queensland or Northern NSW, for goodness’ sake?)
I think I’ll leave the “why” to the entomologists among us.

Then what is it that makes a haiku a haiku, and not an excerpt from a research paper? In Quendryth’s own words, a haiku:

• captures the essence of a moment
• finds the extraordinary in the ordinary
• links nature to human nature

In this haiku, I find a kind of humour in the unstated but obvious differences between humans and flies. Differences can be links in this sense. Humans live in houses, enter through doors (usually) and look outside through glass windows (unless we choose to open them).

Flies are different. What is being juxtaposed here is fly nature and human nature. A human is a human and a fly is a fly and “never the twain shall meet”.

(. . . except in a horror film, such as ‘The Fly’)

Jennifer Gurney:

I love the whimsy of this haiku. Flies are so wily. They are just out of reach of our fly swatter. They zig when we zag. They buzz around our porch lights just out of sight. The imagery of a fly heading for the window when there’s an open door just reinforces this point. Flies have a mind all their own.

Dan Campbell:

This poem.serves as a rich metaphor for spiritual growth, employing imagery and symbolism to depict a journey from limitation to liberation. The fly, a seemingly insignificant creature, becomes a powerful symbol of the human soul’s quest for freedom.

In the poem, the fly’s movement from the door to the window mirrors the process of spiritual awakening. Initially, the fly is confined, perhaps representing a state of ignorance or spiritual dormancy. The open door symbolizes a traditional exit, a way out of immediate, tangible constraints. However, the fly’s aim for the window—an unconventional escape route—represents a deeper yearning for enlightenment.

This journey from the door to the window embodies the transition from limitation to liberation. The fly’s eventual success in finding the window signifies the soul’s achievement of spiritual freedom, escaping the confines of mundane existence. This transformation suggests that true enlightenment requires seeking beyond the obvious solutions, looking for deeper, less conventional paths to spiritual fulfillment.

The poem also addresses the obstacles encountered during this journey. The fly’s struggle to find the window represents the various challenges one faces in the quest for spiritual growth—doubts, fears, and distractions. These obstacles are essential, as they test and ultimately strengthen the resolve to attain spiritual awakening.

The tone of the poem combines elements of struggle and hope, ultimately leading to a sense of peace. The initial struggle of the fly captures the tension and difficulty of spiritual growth, while the eventual success at the window evokes a feeling of hope and liberation. This shift in tone mirrors the journey from spiritual struggle to enlightenment.

On a personal level, readers may resonate with the themes of the poem as they reflect on their own spiritual journeys. The metaphor of the fly’s journey encourages individuals to look beyond conventional solutions, face their struggles with determination, and seek higher understanding and freedom.

Nairithi Konduru (aged 9):

This very interesting poem could mean that a fly has entered a car or house, and humans open a door in the hope that it will go away… But!!! Before the door is opened the fly makes its exit… Through the window!!!!!!

Maybe the fly exited the room before the door was opened because of an unpleasant smell or was it because it remembered something important that it had to do?

Or maybe there was more than one human in the room so while some were shooing the fly towards the door, others were shooing the fly towards the window.

Richard Straw:

The word play in this haiku is, well, playful. Its interpretations depend on two meanings of the verb “makes.”

One meaning is “to create”:

The fly turns the window into an open door.

The other meaning is “to hasten”:

The fly “makes tracks” for the only open door, which happens to be a window.

Unless the fly is related to a carpenter bee, it’s probably not wearing a construction hat. Instead, the fly is more like Alice’s White Rabbit—someone who’s late and in a hurry.

This is an enjoyable haiku that puts readers into the terribly anxious mind of a momentarily trapped fly.

Vidya Premkumar—freedom and entrapment:

Quendryth Young’s haiku, “open door / the fly makes / for a window,” encapsulates a moment of subtle yet profound significance. This haiku invites a rich tapestry of interpretations through various literary theories, each offering a unique lens through which to explore its depth.

From a formalist perspective, the haiku’s structure and economy of language are paramount. The simplicity of its three-line format belies a complex interplay of imagery and meaning. The open door and the fly’s choice to head for a window instead evoke a sense of irony and futility. The poem’s brevity and precision capture a fleeting moment, yet within this moment, the tension between freedom and entrapment is palpable. The formalist approach celebrates the poem’s capacity to evoke such complexity with minimal words, highlighting the craftsmanship behind its construction.

A psychoanalytic reading might delve into the symbolic significance of the open door and the window. The open door represents an unobstructed path to freedom, yet the fly, in its instinctive behavior, seeks another escape route through the window. This behavior could be seen as a metaphor for the human condition, where individuals often overlook clear solutions in favor of more complicated, and sometimes futile, alternatives. The fly’s choice may reflect unconscious desires and fears, suggesting an internal conflict between the instinct for survival and an ingrained sense of entrapment.

From a post-structuralist angle, the haiku can be seen as a commentary on the instability of meaning and the fluidity of interpretation. The open door and the window are both symbols of escape, yet their juxtaposition disrupts any singular interpretation. The fly’s seemingly illogical decision to ignore the open door in favor of the window challenges the reader’s assumptions about rational behavior. This ambiguity invites multiple readings, each shifting the perceived meaning of the poem. The text, in this sense, becomes a site of endless signification, where meaning is perpetually deferred.

A Marxist critique might focus on the social and economic implications of the haiku. The fly’s predicament could be interpreted as a reflection of human struggles within societal structures. The open door symbolizes opportunities that are ostensibly available, yet the fly’s gravitation towards the window suggests a conditioned response to seek escape through less direct means. This could be read as an analogy for individuals within capitalist societies who, despite apparent freedoms, find themselves constrained by systemic barriers and compelled to pursue more arduous paths.

From an ecocritical perspective, the haiku highlights the intersection between human perception and the natural world. The fly, a seemingly insignificant creature, becomes a focal point for examining broader themes of freedom and confinement. The poem subtly underscores humanity’s often limited understanding of other species’ behaviors and choices. By drawing attention to the fly’s perspective, the haiku prompts readers to reconsider their own relationship with the natural world and to recognize the value in every creature’s experience.

In the realm of existentialism, the haiku can be seen as a meditation on choice and existence. The fly’s decision to bypass the open door in favor of the window illustrates the existentialist notion of free will and the often arbitrary nature of choice. The poem underscores the idea that existence is defined by the choices one makes, even if those choices seem irrational to an outside observer. The fly’s actions remind readers of the inherent uncertainty and complexity of life, where paths taken are not always the most straightforward or logical.

Quendryth Young’s haiku is a masterful piece that opens up a multitude of interpretative possibilities through various literary theories. Each approach—whether formalist, psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, Marxist, ecocritical, or existentialist—reveals new layers of meaning and enriches the reader’s understanding of the poem. The haiku’s simplicity is deceptive, housing within its brief lines a wealth of insight into human behavior, perception, and the intricacies of existence.

Author Quendryth Young:

An open door … opening in or out … is an everyday occurrence for each of us. We hardly stop to think about all we observe with one or more of our five senses.
I opened the laundry door and a blowfly immediately raced past me from outside to somewhere deep in the interior of my home. As I walked back inside, I saw (and heard) it at the kitchen window. It seemed to be trying to get out. How often do we take on new hobbies, interests and obligations with a desire to be of service, or often to fulfil some need of our own. And then realise that we want an ‘out’ from this bondage … in a club, on a committee, or even a marriage. So often nature echoes the strange foibles of human nature.


fireworks image

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

     
thin walls 
the couple next door 
prays for me 
—Vandana Parashar,
Prune Juice Issue #42, April 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.


Footnote:

Quendryth Young is an haikuist of long standing; her short bio and some of her verses are in THF’s Haiku Registry. Her own guidelines for writing haiku are here. Guidelines, note: not “rules!”

Thank you all for interesting commentaries this week, each of which adds something to interpretation or appraisal of this little poem. Sometimes a contributor will speak to the heart of it, sometimes to the mind as in Vidya’s detached, eagle-eyed consideration through various approaches, in each case drawing apposite conclusions about the poem. I confess that her Rolls-Royce drafting also appeals to a retired member of the Foreign Office as much as does vivid creative insight, or pragmatic earthiness, in other contributors, other weeks.

Lastly, Lorin writes:
“Flies are different. What is being juxtaposed here is fly nature and human nature. A human is a human and a fly is a fly and “never the twain shall meet.”

Which reminds me of another rare and fine haiku with which to tease today’s rigid overseers of the genre:

sennin wa hito kankodori wa tori nari keri

the hermit is human
while the kankodori
is still a bird!…

The kankodori being a type of cuckoo, literally “a quiet old bird.” You’ll spot the humorous comparison, also perhaps the thought that the cuckoo has a few more transormations to go through before attaining the quiet old hermit’s stage of enlightenment; all in what is ostensibly a bald aphoristic statement, a single sentence with its cut at the end (inviting the reader to recall and reflect).

Yet I suspect that this would meet today with the response:

“Dear Buson, thank you for your submission. We regret we must pass on this, as it does not comply with our guidelines for writing haiku. We look forward to reading more of your work…”

Top of page

Back To Top