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Viral 3.5

Virals is a section in which one person choses a haiku by another person and comments on that haiku. Then the author of that haiku is invited to select a haiku by someone else and comment on that poem, and so on. For an introduction to this section, see Virals.

Viral 3.5

A Simple Swirl of Water: A John Wills’ Moment

BY Cor van den Heuvel

                                                      rain in gusts
                                                      below the deadhead

                                                                                   —John Wills

Talk about seeing a world in a grain of sand. Here is the story of life and death revealed in a swirl of water. Though like most good haiku it is about a moment of perception, this poem may take a few seconds to fully appreciate. Although it is basically about the single moment of the “troutswirl,” to experience the haiku’s full resonance one should also be aware of the several states, or conditions, of water that precede and accompany the moment. The three words of the first line call up not only the “rain in gusts” but by implication—suggestion—we are made aware of the steadier fall of rain, or mistiness, or even absence of rain, which comes between the gusts. The second line, with the word “below” tells us not only that we are looking at a stream, or river, but that its water is flowing and swelling above “the deadhead” (a wholly or partially sunken log) as it tries to get around this obstruction. We can also see the smoothness of the quiet water just below the log. We then see the coming together, the meeting, of those three or four kinds of rain on the different kinds of river surface, and finally we see the moment of the troutswirl itself. The many images of water united in one. And out of this elemental world of river, wind, and rain—and death—comes that one sign of life. The mystery is deepened as much by what we don’t see as by what we do, for the trout itself is either unseen, or just barely glimpsed through the water.

John Wills (1921-1993) cannot select the next poem, and so Viral 3 comes to a close.

Viral 3.1 (Metz ➾ van den Heuvel)
Viral 3.2 (van den Heuvel ➾ Patrick)
Viral 3.3 (Patrick ➾ Forrester)
Viral 3.4 (Forrester ➾ van den Heuvel)

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I had wondered about the origin of THF’s blog’s name! A mystery solved.

    No problems with new word coinage when, as ‘troutswirl’ does, it shows exactly what it means and so well that I instantly recognised what it was, but now that I read the haiku, how right it is in context. John Wills has the eye of a fisherman, knows things by their signs or traces. As Cor says, there is a difference to the patterns of water purling around a log etc. , a kind of repetition if watched for a while, and the pattern made by a living thing. That (unseen) fish has just fed, and on something dislodged from the log by the rain or brought down to the river surface by the rain. For a very short time, the traces of the trout’s dynamic activity , the trout’s ‘signature’ are written in the water. Similarly, the signatures of eels, turtles, small school fish and other living things can be identified by their different effects their movement has on the patterns of water. We probably learned how to do this from fishing birds, originally!

    ah, this haiku makes me feel like dusting off my old rod and heading to a river right now!

    The word I stumbled over was ‘deadhead’ until I read Cor’s explanation, so my guess is that it’s a regional word. (Until now, I only knew the verb, as in ‘deadheading the roses’, or the uncomplimentary slang noun which designates someone you don’t think is very bright) I’m not sure if there is a word in usage for such ‘old logs in the river’ in Australia, apart from ‘a diving log’ or ‘a snag’. There might be, but I’d guess they would vary over the regions, here, too.

  2. When the Troutswirl was set up I looked up the word in four different sources. Nothing, so I concluded that the meaning was what appeared obvious: a swirl of water in which a trout was swimming. I probably read this haiku of John Wills’ years ago, but until now had forgotten it and didn’t know the association to this blog. If an explanation was given when the name was announced, I missed it.

    It is an apt word to convey how my mind works when composing a haiku. Perhaps, composing is too conscious. Often the images, the experience, the words are as elusive as that trout swirling in a rush of water. There and gone. The composing part is in trying to remember and capture what I think I just felt.

    I’m glad to see this haiku again.


  3. Excellent to see the blog’s eponymous haiku show up in the Virals series–and to have Cor’s penetrating analysis of it. Certainly, it’s one of my own all-time favorite English-language haiku, and I like it that much more after reading all these remarks. Wills took a great number of aesthetic risks in his work and usually pulled them off brilliantly, as with the unique Joycean neologism here. Cor’s word “elemental” seems inescapable in discussions of Wills’ work. Great stuff, which never seems to lose its incantatory power.

  4. “Although it is basically about the single moment of the “troutswirl,” to experience the haiku’s full resonance one should also be aware of the several states, or conditions, of water that precede and accompany the moment.”

    As Cor points out above, Wills’ haiku is about a moment of perception, and also the nature of perception. For me, it is also about the moments just after the troutswirl, an elusive and ephemeral phenomenon often accompanied by the question, “Did I just see what I think I saw?”

    A swirl of water and bubbles, maybe a flash of color and maybe not, and then a long stare at the water…

  5. I’d only add to Cor’s exemplary digest of perceptions that well up from the wildness at the heart of the poem a delightful sense of play, of equivocal dissemination, that flashes forth in the interesting “word” at the end, which is also a new beginning. That strangeness is a token of a unique coming-to-be; it communicates the stretch of art and even the artificial, the gaudy frame-breaking of imagination. “Let be — it’s cool, it’s good!” A sort of idiotic stuttering, no, in the face of that which transcends us? A good poem always seems to implicate “us” in an awareness that says “yes” to “transcendence as other” — something good, and good for us, which we can’t explain or describe or even categorize except through this kind of metaphysical chit-chat, for which I duly apologize.

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