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Viral 5.4


Viral 5.4
By John Stevenson

after the garden party    the garden

Ruth Yarrow

When offered the chance to write about a haiku I admire, it seemed as if every haiku I’ve ever read vanished from my memory. I knew that I could pick up almost any issue of the journals to which I subscribe or any of the haiku anthologies and find poems that would inspire admiration. But I decided that it would be more interesting to wait and see what poems came to me spontaneously, in their own good time. Ruth Yarrow’s was the first to arrive in this way.

The poem speaks for itself. I shall now proceed to gild the lily.

The poem says that, after the garden party, there is / was / will be the garden.

Viewed as experience—a party at 27 Sycamore Street—it might suggest that of a hostess, or a child of the household, a neighbor, or a gardener, caterer, or a musician packing his instrument.

It could be that of a guest who has returned in search of something lost or misplaced. The list can go on in this fashion until overtaken by exhaustion. In a similar vein, each of these observers has a range of potential responses to this encounter with a post-party garden and each of those responses may be in the form of thought, intuition, and/or visceral reflexes involving memory, present experience, or anticipation. So, for each trunk there are branches and for each branch there are twigs and leaves of potential experience and attending resonance. And yet the thing is so simple.

Alternatively, the poem could be looked upon as projecting a scene without a human participant, without a self as witness—after the expulsion from Eden, what is Eden? After one’s own death, what is the life that goes on in this world? The garden behind 27 Sycamore Street might be contemplated for an instant as a strange place, that is, a new place. What is it then? Not “what is it like” but what is it?

Or the poem might be about words. It contains six of them, two of which are repetitions. Iteration, inflection, and seasoning. It might be about words, words, words.

I believe in the twenty-seven ways. There are more than twice as many ways of looking at a haiku as there are of looking at a blackbird. Each of them is a way in which a haiku might be an effective poem and none of them is THE way.

One of the ways that I enjoy looking at a haiku is to notice how it embodies a correspondence between things depicted (there and then) and my experience as a reader (here and now). These “Virals” columns, like all of our discourse on haiku, are a virtual party. They can be great fun. They can be something to dread. They can be a social vehicle of career advancement.

after the garden party     the garden

As featured poet, Ruth Yarrow will select a poem and provide commentary on it for Viral 5.5.

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 5.1 (Metz ➾ Lyles)
Viral 5.2 (Lyles ➾ Chang)
Viral 5.3 (Chang ➾ Stevenson)

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. On reading this poem, one of my favourites too, I’ve always imagined the garden coming back to itself after the party – the quiet re-entering after the noise of voices and reasserting itself, the colours of the flowers becoming a little more vibrant now that they’re blooming for only one observer (me), the perfumes of plants becoming dominant once again after the artificial floral perfumes of guests, shadows creeping in and altering the shape of the garden, Japanese lanterns in the trees ….

    This is a very full poem, yet comprises only six words – two of them repeated! And there’s still room for deep silence, colour and movement.


  2. ‘I note that John’s comments are on the poem and also on us. His words are well-chosen and in the best spirit of our motley but lovable group.’ Mark

    Nicely observed, Mark. Yes, that does appear to be the case.

    A party in the setting of the garden, and the garden.

    The various theories/approaches, speculations and interpretations (all interesting, or illuminating or at least entertaining, at least for a while) of the poem, and the poem.

    Whatever we might think about gardens as opposed to the wild, the garden was there before the garden party (how else could there be a garden party held?) and remains after the party is over, more or less intact, though the petunias might have been trampled and the cherry branches near the barbeque be a bit singed.

    (and the garden is still there the next day whether the party-goers have hangovers or not. )

    A garden, in my mind, is a more likely metaphor for poetry than the wild. It is, like poetry, a ‘cultivated’ thing. Fashions in gardens change, different plants suit different climates, different philosophies of gardening have their day, the emphasis might be on edibles or on aesthetic values, but we still call everything from a grand-scale Botanical Garden to the rather haphazardly planted, small space in eg in my backyard a garden.

    Hooray for gardens! Without which, no garden parties 🙂



  3. I have one of John’s 27 ways times six in reaction to this haiku. My initial impression hasn’t changed over time, although John’s points are applicable and provocative, both. For me, haiku, and at least this haiku, has a poet/observer present. Even if a dream or a memory, there is an author who implemented the words.

    Ruth has long shown the eye of a naturalist paired with the skill of a wordsmith.

    I react to this poem as an almost sardonic “author’s message” — very sotto voce — about the lack on sensitivity to the garden by many of the party goers. The garden was a charming place to hold the party, a set, a backdrop like a painted scrim. After the party… the poet/observer is left to contemplate and observe the garden.

    Additionally, gardens themselves are fake arrangements of “nature” as we have been discussing in Peter’s latest Sails. Gardens are managed “nature.” Very stylized in some cases… certainly so in British-style landscape gardens and also so-called Japanese gardens — Temple Gardens. An ordinary formal garden in the US has flowering plants, shrubs, trees, perhaps fish in a water feature. Still . . . even planned and tended, shaped and manicured, the living things find a way. Bees fly in, butterflies, and even the mosquitoes as someone mentioned. Earthworms and slugs might survive the chemical onslaught. Stray acorns may germinate and “volunteer” flowers escape the weeder.

    I am reminded of a friend who told me he had driven through The Grand Tetons (USA National Park) in Wyoming. As he passed, he and his family thought it was a fine display of mountains. Period. I stopped (actually for several nights) and hiked a little with my wife. Took several kinds of water trips, including a mostly tame raft trip. As we climbed between the great peaks (still fairly easy hiking) and saw the alpine wild flowers below the glaciers, and noticed the wind-combed clouds clinging in the lee of the Grand Teton . . . I felt something of the Rockies’ legendary power and grandeur. That wild “garden” had eagles and osprey, moose and deer; and beaver and trout. The sun set behind the peaks giving proof to the song lyric about purple mountain’s majesty.

    Some of Ruth’s garden party folk, I leap to assume, watched through the car window at 45 mph. After the group had left, the poet sat and listened, even to that patch of stylized “Nature.”

  4. This poem has long been a favorite of mine.

    and how interesting, John, that this was the poem that spontaneously first arrived to you in response to this forum.

    Your insightful closing comments move me to this:

    after the virtual party the virtual

    and whooooaaaa, what a different place/places I am left in:

    Ruth’s garden, whether it is gloriously bathed in soft light and fragrance, or swarming with mosquitoes, creates a shared context for those who have gathered.
    The garden at the end of the poem holds what has happened there and continues.
    For me, despite the ease of “connecting” electronically, and all it has offered us in increased communication,
    the illuminated screen does not hold us in quite the same way
    the garden does.

  5. I note that John’s comments are on the poem and also on us. His words are well-chosen and in the best spirit of our motley but lovable group.

    This haiku by Ruth Yarrow leads me, by way of contrasts, into quietude. Gardens can be utopian. We tailor our small corner of the world (if we can call it ours) to reflect our vision of harmony, whatever that might be. Not anything as grand as nature or perfection. For me, after the garden party/ the garden is about coming home to a secret place that is never quite found but is there somewhere, and precious.

  6. Whenever I read this haiku of Ruth’s, I think of Katherine Mansfield’s story “Bliss”, with its dinner party setting and its lovely and mysterious last line, “But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.”

  7. I’ve always appreciated this poem by Ruth Yarrow. It is the essence of haiku. The two terms of the poem rely on one another and define one another. In its way it is perfect.

  8. I’ve posted my response under the current Sailing to keep this channel open for appreciations and comments about Ruth’s poem.

  9. I am really reluctant to respond, but I cannot refrain from bringing up the fact that there may not be a body outside of its constituents (including mind); the body is an abstraction, an addition, to its parts and I’m afraid to think of the “absolute” is-ness of the body/garden is to deny its existence as existing as an idea.

  10. I tend, the evidence is available, to talk about haiku, and poems which have some qualities of haiku (I would say I write the latter) in terms of the body, which often, for me, is the way of direct experience, though it may require mind to unlock and exfoliate.

    This poem sets up, very quickly, expectations which are not met. In this, it mimics what “party” is for many— from the invitation on, an anticipated gathering into which one’s expectations, fears, hopes, misconceptions, social puppetry etc. get projected. The event itself may or may not match these projections, but no doubt one will have had one’s “stuff” activated, for good or ill or both.

    Parties are events. They are a multiplication of verb—some quite primal, as to dance, to eat, to _______ fill in the blank. Yarrow’s poem sets up the expectation of action. The poem begins with a sentence, or has the structure of a sentence, as “After the garden party, it began to rain”. But the sentence stops short of any kind any of resolution. The mind wants to get on with it, it wants to fill in that gap with some kind of action—the mind wants satisfaction, but is denied, and the thwarting pulls the rug out from under it plunging us into the body, into the body’s garden if you will, the realm of sensation. Think of the body, think of the garden what you will, but if allowed, it will only speak the truth. At that level, I don’t believe small talk is possible.

    So the poem does a wonderful thing: its lack of action, its lack of verb, the gap which is central to it– reveals the busy-ness of mind and contrasts it with the absolute is-ness of the garden. And how do you enter a garden (how do you approach your lover)—with ideas about what it is or could be, or with your senses, including the senses of the heart?

    This poem and John’s exploration fit intriguingly, I’d say, with the discussion currently unfolding over at Sailing #6.

  11. John always surprises me. When I read this haiku, when I came to the garden…after everyone had left…I felt sheer joy.
    Joy for the friendship I’d experienced at the party and joy at the solitude of (what appeared in my mind at the moment of reading) a sunlit garden green, and filled with all sorts of flowers and lovely blooming trees.
    I’ve just been reading John’s new book, Live Again, and it struck me that some of the haiku he had written affected me in ways that were different than I expected as I read them. For example, “my hands at rest/in dishwater…/first hummingbird”…should have elicited delight for me, but it brought me to a deeper level and it touched deep grief …a memory of loss.
    I am in awe of you guys who can do such things with words!

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