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
final rays . . . still reason to hum — Marion Clarke, Haiku Master (NHK, 2016)
Modje Marvast tells a tale:
The last rays of sun keep stretching forward to reach the earth, finally the earth turns its face back, not to leave but to live.
This beautiful haiku reminded me of my friend’s sorrowful experience of her 5-year-old daughter’s death. She was nursing her through a long period of sickness. She said on the night of her “leaving”, she tries not to look at her mother’s face, and she keeps stealing her eyes from her mother while turning her face away. Her mother keeps the little girl’s hand in hers and caresses the tiny fingers but she doesn’t look back!
This haiku gives me a sign of hope that she has come back but surely very different from what she was when she left. That’s why her mother keeps feeling her everywhere!!
Carol Jones accepts the circumstance:
For me, Marion’s poem has portrayed a sense of a person coming to the end of life.
On times, life can be taken prematurely by an illness of some kind. Having to accept you cannot control every thing that happens in life, and to resign to the fact it is being cut short, taking stock, and making the most of the time that is left, the good things in life.
While Peter Newton discovers an optimism:
A good haiku casts the reader both backward and forward in time — if only by seconds. There’s a narrative that comes before and after. One the reader supplies.
Here, I am struck by the phrase “final rays” which I take to mean sun rays and also radiation therapy for an illness. The word “final” suggests the more definitive ending. But whether it’s the end of a day or the end of an arduous treatment regimen lasting weeks or months there is “still reason / to hum”. There’s a simple optimism.
I can hear the soft tune that drifts beyond the reaches of these few words. A hum or a sigh that turns into a hum. The relief of kicking your feet up on the coffee table after a day’s work. The fewest words in the right order can reveal a person’s story. A state of mind. One’s character.
Reminds me of the line by Tolstoy in Anna Karenina:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Despite the subject of this poem, is the speaker of this haiku happy? What is happy? A good haiku can send the reader on the trail for bigger questions — often through the smallest details. For me, anyway, these words expand. Through them I realized that gratitude is a kind of learned happiness, one that is often hard-earned.
As this week’s winner, Peter 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!
whale song I become an empty boat — Michelle Tennison, Michelle Tennison 32 (2015)