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re:Virals 93

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

     the daisies
     you paint full
     of philosophy
          — Geraldine Clinton Little, Modern Haiku 19.3 (1988) 

Aparna Pathak takes a direct tack:

While conceiving this beautiful haiku Geraldine seems to be mesmerized with the artwork. The daisies are looking real with natural colours that are used to paint them rather than giving any kind of gaudy effect to it. Here she clearly distinguishes between these daisies and the ones where artist try to paint them with flashy colours.

Daises perhaps represent life here, where “full of philosophy” is about being real than try look artificial, outwardly or inwardly.

Geraldine pensively advocates simplicity over being cosmetic.

As does Carol Jones:

Daisies, little plants, uncomplicated in its method of survival, opens up in sunlight, and closes in darkness, simple.

I ask myself, now, with line 3 is it referring to the way we complicate the simple things in our own lives or if others with firm points of view do it for us, more so in a position of power — gilding the lily — so to speak, putting a wash on things to make it more attractive.

Are the daisies referring to humans? I think so, as I don’t recall any other species on the planet interfering on such a grand scale, when it comes to complicating things.

My philosophy in life ‘if ain’t broke, don’t mend it.

But Marion Clarke is not quite so sure:

Geraldine Clinton Little’s haiku made me wonder how the painted daisies could be “full of philosophy”. How do these daisies differ from any others in order to be described in such a way? Has the artist personified the subject so that the blooms look philosophical? Is it that the painter has studied their subject in such depth that the resulting piece has totally captured the essence of the flower? Or, could the image be a totally abstract representation, causing the viewer to question the very nature of a daisy? Perhaps the depiction of the flowers in some way reflects the philosophical nature of the person who produced it. Or maybe the narrator knows the painter personally and is saying that he/she paints in a way that questions the nature of everything. I’m not sure, but the fact that it leads this reader to ask so many questions suggests that, like those daisies, this haiku is full of philosophy!

Lorin Ford feels the weight of the words:

Interestingly, when I copied & pasted this haiku lines 2 & 3 became indented. I suspect this may have been its original published form. The indented break after “the daisies” allows me two views of the daisies. There are the actual daisies and the daisies painted on canvas. But in the transference of daisies ‘from life’ to the image on canvas something has been added: philosophy, a product of the human mind. “Philosophy” is a word with a weighty feel. There may be a criticism implied or the author may simply be making a sharp observation: there is a difference between daisies as they are and daisies co-opted as symbols of something else, “full of philosophy”.

The conundrum raised by “the daisies” and “the daisies you paint” puts me in mind of an old favourite poem, ‘The White Room’, by Charles Simic, which begins:

“The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. . . .”

and towards the end, continues:

“Just things as they are,”

before immediately undermining the likelihood of human perception of “things as they are” with wry personification:

“Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light
And the trees waiting for the night.”

Nathan Sidney calls it like it is:

“To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a Wild Flower”, is this the philosophy of the daisies? Or is this philosophy the stylistic choices of the painter, who in interpreting the flowers has engaged with a world of art history. Perhaps it is the painter who is full of philosophy, holding a conversation with the poet as he puts down in color the world in front of him that is for a moment seen as perfect. The poet has made an interesting choice by including the word “full” on the second line rather than on the third, which anyway would have made the last line a little too chunky. By including it on the second line not only do we get another meaning, that of the daisies being in “full” bloom, but it creates a sense of anticipation which the third line resolves. The reading I prefer is to see this poem as a reference to the art of haiku and making itself. Here the daisies painted are the ones of the minds eye, blooming into existence with the first line. The philosophy they are full of is all the theory of the poet/painter, and a world of history, critique and commentary on the art form/s themselves. Of course, my interpretations are coloured by my favourable bias towards philosophy, a word with a certain gravitas. It is entirely possible that the painter has killed these daisies by painting them full of “philosophy” rather than say “magic” or “bodaciousness”. Perhaps what the poet meant to say was that the daisies and the painter are full of shit!

and Sheila Sondik rounds upon the whole of the work:

Daisies belong to the Asteraceae or Compositae family. Not as simple as they appear to the casual glance, each bloom consists of many ray flowers (commonly pulled off to prove or disprove a love relationship) and myriad central disc flowers.

This enigmatic haiku offers its readers many possible interpretations. Is it contrasting the daisy, symbol of innocence, often the first flower children draw, to the voluminous corpus of philosophy? Or is its message aimed more at artists than at thinkers? The goal of painting a daisy is not only the reproduction of the visual aspects of the flower. We have cameras (phones, even) that can do that. There should be a discovery in the work of art, or at least a statement, beyond imitation of the visual world. Philosophy is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and our knowledge of it. As a visual artist, I want to express my own consciousness and worldview through the artistic medium, no matter what the ostensible subject of the painting.

Is it “the daisies you paint” which are “full of philosophy”? Or are “the daisies” in all their is-ness, contrasted with the artist? Is “you paint full of philosophy” a reprimand or a compliment to the artist? The repeated F sounds in “full of philosophy” seem to me to add a humorous cast to that phrase. In any case, Geraldine Clinton Little has given us a most intriguing poem.

While Danny Blackwell knows the angst of vegetation:

“If there were not anxiety behind those apples, Cézanne would not interest me any more than Bouguereau.”

The above is a quote by Picasso that has followed me around since I wrote my BA dissertation on music many years ago.

This quote resonated with me profoundly because I felt that good art should be more than academic or technical, and I was investigating the mystical origins of art, which seems to have been born out of a need to see the world through a filter, to give the world’s mysteries their myths, or philosophies.

This poem offers us a portrait of the still-life artist. It is an ambiguous portrait of the artist and his art because we don’t know exactly what “philosophy” is hidden behind those daisies.

All we know is that the painting offers more than a pictorial representation.
And yet we cannot see this representation, so it would seem that this poem is more like the micro-theatre that is senryu, and that we are sharing in a very human drama. True, one may imagine the very real daisies being painted and, therefore, could happily treat this as a haiku. But to me the physical daisies are absent in my mind’s eye: all I see is the poet looking at the painting, and possibly the painter too, who I imagine is in their studio. (I also imagine that the painter is someone the poet admires and has some kind of relationship with, a relationship I sense is affectionate. Of course, much of this is not explicitly in the poem and yet nevertheless these are the images the poem provokes in me.)

Perhaps a key question to ask would be this:

Is it right to use poetry — words — to describe another art form, in this case painting?

Frank Zappa once said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture.

So maybe it is equally futile to write about painting?

Whatever the case, here we have a series of words that describe a painting of daisies that are more than daisies, and yet we know not what.

What we do know is that we are “looking” at art — and by extension the artist — concerned with more than what’s on the surface, so to speak. And that, I hope, is something we can all relate to. Because painting daisies without some kind of philosophy would be futile. If you just want daisies, look at daisies! So, although Bashō said to learn of the pine we should go to the pine, this poem seems to be more concerned with humans than flowers. So we could maybe say that if you want to learn about us you should look at our paintings, our art, to see the world when it has undergone a transformation and become more than what is being represented. That is to say that, like Cézanne’s apples, there is philosophy behind those daisies.


As this week’s winner, Danny 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 93:

     the only sound that’s come out of me all day firefly
          — Scott Metz, a sealed jar of mustard seeds (issue 9 of ant ant ant ant ant, 2009) 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thank you very much for the informative comment which teaches a lot to be learned.

    I know time to add a comment has passed but, i myself feel this philisophy in creations of the creator!
    He paints but the phil-o-sophy in the painting makes it live.

  2. It’s just occurred to me that I didn’t go no into the idea of the poem being a recrimination, but there is definitely room for that as a possible interpretation.

    1. “…If you want to learn about us you should look at our paintings…”

      What a great line, Danny.


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