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re:Virals 47

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

     gossamer the length of a dream
          Shloka Shankar, A Hundred Gourds 5:1, (2015)

Marion Clarke connects with the poem directly:

Shloka’s monoku shimmers with an ethereal quality. It could really only work as written, since cutting it into three lines would lose its length and, thus, concrete quality.

Q: How do we measure the length of a dream? A: We can’t — it’s as elusive as this thread of gossamer that the narrator is reaching for as it floats past. It’s difficult to tell where it begins and ends.

But this fine spider silk is also very strong. Despite its delicate appearance, it has real substance. Just like sometimes when we wake up from a particularly vivid dream, some elements stay with us and for a moment we don’t know what is real. Who hasn’t awakened from a beautiful dream of a loved one to suddenly realize that this person is no longer with us? The ‘resurrected’ grief can sometimes be as real as the moment we were told they had gone.

And Jo McInerney takes us into the poem by exploring the origins of its key word:

‘Gossamer’ — literally a spider’s thread — has meanings beyond the literal. It drifts and shines as any filmy substance of attenuated beauty.

It is the stuff of paradox — fragile loveliness and tensile strength; infinite fineness and infinite length. Shloka Shankar takes this shimmering thread and uses it as a unit of measurement to plumb a dream. How long is a dream? Like a piece of string, it is the length it is; flickering brevity or the deep, slow sleep of eternity.

Shankar’s monoku is like an autumn lane strung with spider silk. The word ‘gossamer’ derives from ‘gos’ or ‘goose summer’, the period of late autumn when geese are plentiful; a time of short-lived warmth before the rigours of winter; what was once referred to in Scottish as ‘go-summer’. ‘Gossamer’ specifically is spider thread found in fields of stubble in late fall, as it appears the word for the time of year has been transferred to something noticeable then.

What ultimately remains is the sense of fragility. The sense that the dreamer will awaken and the dream will end, the thread will snap. Autumn’s last warm respite will give way to the cold.

Finally, Pratima Balabhadrapathruni invokes other poetic instances to heighten the effect:

A very deep write.

The “er” in “gossamer” creates the pause before gliding across. The rest of the haiku sounds like a dreamy sigh. Which is how a pleasant dream would be . . . a “gossamer of happiness” (Charlotte Bronte), a delicate, intricate web of silk skein. Almost unreachable, almost reachable, and yet beyond, a little further away. When the wind blows through this web, it balloons. Exactly the way dreams do, when we attach emotions to them. Little details emerge, blurring reality. Blurring fantasy.

I read the haiku as an extended metaphor for interdependence, an instance for team work.

Whitman in “A Noiseless Silent Spider” wrote:

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.”

How drawn out is, the gossamer of our dreams. Who is being bridge, anchor . . . where and when does the “I” begin and end . . .


As this week’s winner, Pratima gets to choose 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. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.

Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!

re:Virals 47:

     A blue anchor grains of grit in a tall sky sewing 
          John Ashbery, Sulphur/i>5 (1981)

This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. Brief commentary:

      With apologies to author and/or editor: Is this poem akin to purple whales or electric hippos skating on thin ice? As written . . . an anchor that is a seamstress is up in the sky, both blue and gritty. Right? & some skies are taller than others?

      Jabberwocky posed as a haiku. I do not think the term “gendai” had been concocted in 1981, but still — this takes a great leap to be considered by most _any_ definition of haiku.

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