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re:Virals 51

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

     moving into the sun
     the pony takes with him
     some mountain shadow
          Jane Reichhold, American Haiku in Four Seasons, Yilin Press, Nanjing, China (1991)

Alan Summers remembered this poem fondly:

This was one of my favourite haiku back last century and it was a joy to revisit.

This haiku was one of those catalyst poems that pushed me into writing better work. Line by line the gentle pace, and resonance, is picked up in tension as well. Not all haiku work so well with just taking the first line of the poem, and sitting with it, before going onto the next lines: With those first two lines, we are compelled to read the third and last line. But that isn’t enough, the construction teases us to read the first line and then the whole poem again, and for me, again and again.

Haiku can be over stuffed if two verbs are employed in something which is often barely a sentence:

Moving into the sun the pony takes with him some mountain shadow.

But this para-sentence, if stretched out into a single prose line still contains all those elements that make the haiku so iconic, and would make for a strong line of prose in either a short story, novella, or full novel, whether as the opening line, internal line, or concluding line. How is it that I can read this short poem all over again, and multiple times, and not be bored, not be constrained by just one single meaning or a flat layer of plot?

There are cleverly plotted out keywords and key lines such as:

into the sun
takes with him
mountain shadow

I remember being absolutely stunned when I read this haiku some time in the 1990s, and that I had to read it many times to understand its intricacy, and then when I had worked it out, I re-read it many many times more for sheer enjoyment.

Not surprisingly this haiku gained a Museum of Haiku Literature award back in 1984.

How can a mere dozen words act so satisfyingly both on the tongue and the mind’s “tongue”. After all these years I am still intrigued by it, by that opening line, and each successive line. It takes great craft to make so few simple and plain words into an epic, and all condensed into three short lines. I will never tire of reading this haiku again and again, and attempt to move into the sun, taking a little of the mountain’s shadow with me.

Peter Newton takes this right up to the present:

There’s an element of the wild here. The gradual pace of the poet’s observation reflective of the action described. Perhaps this pony is untamed. One of the wild ponies in the herds out west? It may have no reason to fear people. And yet I read into this scene: another day older — into the day’s sun — a pony wary of what’s ahead carrying with it the wisdom of experience as represented by the “mountain shadow.” The scene has the mood of a vast cloud formation as it moves slowly across the landscape. Also, a surreal magical tone as if the dark coloration of “mountain shadow” could imprint on the pony itself. An Appaloosa’s dark spots? A literal translation, I realize. A bit of a creation myth here as well. Very cool.

We take with us wherever we go our lived experiences. Our surroundings. I think of Rumi who said: “You become what you love.” Clearly, the poet here offers an intimate detail. A person at one with the land and its creatures.


As this week’s winner, Peter 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 51:

     dandelion antsronauts
          Tom Sacramona, bottle rockets 18.1 (2016)
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