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re:Virals 84

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

     Gita chanting . . .
          birds become
        the ellipsis 

          — Kala Ramesh, The Akita International Haiku Award (2014)

Niranjan Navalgund makes a fine point:

While the person is chanting Gita, birds exhibit understanding of the verses by their presence. The above haiku could also mean that in the process of chanting Gita — the thoughts of the individual disappear or fly away!

And Garima Behal delves into a deeper interpretation:

To me, an ellipsis represents that a thought swimming in one’s mind can no longer be expressed in words. It shows a profundity of the abstract that cannot be translated into the tangible. In this haiku, I see the birds as never ceasing thoughts, flying a million miles an hour. With the chanting of the Gita, as the mind approaches a state of centered thought, or even thoughtlessness, these birds slowly fade into nothingness. It is a calm that doesn’t require description; a place where, having reached, the mind is freed of the desire to understand, interpret and label.

While Garry Eaton sets out the whole story:

This haiku alludes to the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text in Sanskrit that is often sung or chanted as part of Hindu devotion. As part of an epic, the Mahabarata, the Gita is about war and is dramatically set on a battlefield before a battle. It takes the form of a pep talk between Krishna, a Hindu god on earth, and Arjuna, the hapless, merely human soldier whom it is intended to inspire and who will possibly die in the ensuing action. More specifically, the Bhagavad Gita is about the courage and faith that facing death requires everywhere when young, inexperienced and often innocent soldiers find themselves in a war without necessarily knowing or agreeing with the reasons for it. As such, the Gita would be chanted in a manner that reflects and expresses that dramatic sadness.

In a poem with apocalyptic overtones, Kala Ramesh alludes to the Gita in her first line, then strategically employs an ellipsis to suggest both the unstated words of the scripture and the timelessness of the challenge wars present to the meaning of higher civilization. If we look around us, that challenge still confronts us today, perhaps more universally and dramatically than ever before, despite our efforts. The Gita ends, but will the chanting of it ultimately trail off and fade away completely, like the ellipsis? Will there, at the end of our day, be left only wreckage and the sweet songs of birds to echo the chanted devotions that once were heard? I don’t know if Kala thought of it, but could we be seeing birds of carrion leave after feasting on battlefield corpses and fly away to become only dots on the horizon?

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As this week’s winner, Garry gets to select the next 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 84:

     mosquito larvae
     in stagnant water
     on a sunshiny day

          — Taigi, A History of Haiku, Volume 1 (trans. R H Blyth)

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thanks Kala. I saw what you intended, then tried to stretch the utility of the ellipsis beyond what you intended into an expression of anxiety about current political problems and threats. I may have taken it too far. But having interested Lorin in my thoughts is very reassuring. Thanks Lorin.

  2. I also thank Niranjan Navalgund, Garima Behal and all the others for their interpretations.
    __

    That’s an in-depth interpretation, Garry. You’ve given us a complete backdrop against which the Gita was recited at the battlefield and its relevance to the present. That is one of the reasons that Indians still study the Gita.
    Thank you so much.

    __

    What I also wanted to show was this — in the pause between the Gita recitation, the ‘birds’ in the sky [flying farther away] seem like dots and so likened them to an ellipsis – thereby continuing and connecting the verse being recited with the birds adding the pause.
    … a oneness, which is the basis of the Advaitic thought – non-dualism.

    Advaita [non-dualism] means that the bird, you, me, the mountain, a blade of grass are all ‘one’ pulsating consciousness – which is what I was trying to show in this ku.

  3. That’s a fascinating, moving, in-depth study into the possibilities of Kala’s ‘ellipsis’ haiku , Garry. Thanks for the illumination. There are some words that stick out so much for me in a haiku that I get stuck in them; ‘ellipsis’ is such a word.

    “So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
    On the field of battle.
    ——————————–Not fare well
    But fare forward, voyagers.”

    – Lorin

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