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re:Virals 65

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

     by weeds
     the road not taken
          — Carlos Colón, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013)

Marion Clarke read this poem in a most personal manner:

Upon first reading, this haiku spoke of sadness and regret. However, once I spotted it was by Carlos (Haiku Elvis) I found it to be quite ‘tongue-in-cheek.’ The image of the weed-covered road might have been him saying, “Phew, lucky I didn’t choose that road — I’d have been all on my own!” Carlos’s wry humour in the haiku world is sadly missed.

Other poets were reminded of other poems. Mojde Marvast wrote:

This haiku recalls for me Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”.

The choice of “overtaken” to start the haiku is so impressive. Then comes “weeds”, all of a sudden, a change of stress! Then “the road not taken” is like a victory. Not of weeds, because someone (the poet) has noticed the road, but of the road.

Not taken!

The road is an infrastructure, and though it may be hidden and I may feel lost, it is always there.

And David Jacobs finds this:

When I read this haiku, I was immediately reminded of Kipling’s “The Way Through the Woods”. In particular, the first few lines:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods. . . .

Kipling’s poem creates a somewhat ghostly atmosphere as it continues, the road as it once was being created afresh, but, as is the case, with haiku, we get nothing like this here, simply a taut three lines which brings us face to face with what we’ve done, what we haven’t done, what we will never do, what we yet might.

I like the technical astuteness of this haiku — the short sharp sting of the second line (as opposed to the more traditional longer one) and the resultant flow of disclosure in the third.

While Sandra Simpson goes even further:

So few words, so many possible meanings . . . here are just a few ideas.

1: An old, overgrown footpath, perhaps forking off from a well-used route. But even in this literal reading, the poem carries a message with the ‘old way’ being erased from memory by nature’s abundance — just as we have largely lost our folk memory of the medicinal and/or food values of plants that in the 21st century we call weeds (and so accord them no value).

2: A life viewed from its end and now regarded as having been wasted (‘overtaken by weeds’). If only, the poet seems to be saying, I’d chosen that over this; done that not this; said ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ . . . taken another road.

3: Although written by a man, the haiku does allow a woman’s perspective — the poet has been ‘overtaken by (widow’s) weeds’. The ‘road not taken’ then opens many possibilities with choices in love only one of the possible strands.

4: The poet is celebrating “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and has — perhaps as a writing exercise, perhaps for fun — distilled the longer poem into a haiku.

5: The poet has found value in overlap or similarities between the Frost poem and Basho’s haiku:

this road —
no one goes down it,
autumn evening
     (tr Robert Hass)

and created a new work while standing on the shoulders of these giants.


As this week’s winner, Sandra chooses 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 65:

     In my other life
     a pale-green sycamore
     arms wide, shimmering
          — Patrick Sweeney, Only One Tree Haiku Contest (2016)
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