Virals: a domino game of haiku selections and commentaries
By Patrick Sweeney
burial at sea—
so much nearer
I read this haiku in Without Halos, a New Jersey literary magazine that was big-heartedly open to all poetic forms. This poem punched a hole in my consciousness and was promptly added to my sacred store of frequently recited and treasured utterances. “burial at sea—” is like when I first learned what Ash Wednesday was really all about . . . contemplating one’s own finitude and the multitudinous energy transformations that await, could give even a tiger mystic the heebeegeebees.
My grandmother used to say an Irishman is old by age six. I have always felt a craggy wisdom behind this haiku. Naturally, “burial at sea—” brings one to a solemn place. I don’t know what the poet’s intentions might’ve been, or whether I am completely misreading him, but I do know I use his poem as a kind of reminder to hurry up and pay attention to what I have to get done. My Japanese friends tell me there is no horizon and I smile and bow and continue to pray.
As featured poet, Rich Youmans will select a poem and provide commentary on it for Viral 8.3.
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Someone needs to throw Youmans a line. Let’s get 8.3 started. Or, in absentia, give Potts a “kick at the cat”.
As the Pottsmeister himself alluded to.. Mr. Rich Youmans’ head is bobbing in the treacherous, shark-infested waters of anonymity. Come hither, dear sailor. We shall heal your scurvy with the sour fruits of our lacklustre haiku.
Fin in the waters
Wait, fin means “end’ in Français
Yo, throw a line, man
Yes, as a body slips into water any horizon would become quite close, in fact totally imminent and enveloping. How much more so the loss of self in a moment.
Youmans still kicking?
to give us some relief from
this *ahem* drivel
Viral 8.3 Where are thee?
Here you go
into fathomless blue
body that I love
🙂 ..just call me ‘Sophie’ for short, Carmen. (I wish!)
Lorin, excuse the typo below.
“The intensity of focusing on the burial at sea is such that attention is drawn to the exact spot where the body, cherished, enters the water and so the horizon is the immediate space surrounding it at such a moment. I think this is where the emotional impact of the poem resides.” Jack Gamitz
Jack’s interpretation is vivid and makes sense to me.
“Death is also a ‘horizon’ beyond which we ‘can’t see’ and from beyond which no information returns.” Loren Ford
And since this may also be the burial of a parent,
the horizon represents a place where the poet will go sooner than later, thus he chooses to write “the horizon so much nearer.”
I see that I left out a whole chunk what of what I intended to write. Sorry about any confusion it might’ve caused. Adding it now:
“The occasion of a sea-burial (not sure what Rich Youmans had in mind, but having been born as a consequence of my father *not* having had a sea-burial during WW2, though many of his shipmate’s did have one, I think of those burials at sea, rather than the optional, civilian sea-burials) focuses the mind, from what I’ve heard.”
Greg, yes, I think ‘horizon’ can be stretched…in fact it *is* stretched in our normal language. It’s had a metaphorical function for hundreds of years, at least. In a sense, it *is* something like ‘the singularity’ in physics (which has now also become metaphorical, in relation to speculations about ‘the technological singularity) But I don’t think the horizon *changes*. On the literal level, it’s the limit to the area of the curved surface of the earth we can literally see (we can’t see around a curve; it’s simply the way our physical visual faculties are set up.) Metaphorically, the horizon is the limit of what we can know. The ‘event horizon’ is one of these metaphorical usages, albeit a more recent one. Death is also a ‘horizon’ beyond which we ‘can’t see’ and from beyond which no information returns.
Let’s stretch the idea of “horizon” a bit, shall we. While the horizon at sea is ever changing, depending upon one’s position, it is (at best) an artificial construct, as Mr. Sweeney’s drinking buddies are quick to point out. In relation to death and whatever it is that lies beyond the grave, the idea of a conceptual construct of “yonder” is somewhat weak.
Think, for a moment, of the “event horizon” which, thanks to Stephen Hawking’s coffee table treatise on the theory of everything (or nothing, if you please), is defined as a very specific point, beyond which no information, light, or understanding can be retrieved. The “black hole”, which is the “black box” of the afterlife for many, begins and ends at the “event horizon”.
Now, while I am sure that this is probably not what Youmans intended to convey, the image of an all-engulfing force drawing nigh does tend to fit well with the image of death. Nevertheless, the sea, fluid and turbulent, is more representative of the space-time continuum than a 3 meter hole in the earth. I pray that whatever lies beyond this space and this time is better (ie, than the here and now), and that the sea carries our loved ones gently there.
Just to add a thought:
The horizon divides directions between those that intersect the earth’s surface and those that don’t.
The intensity of focusing on the burial at sea is such that attention is drawn to the exact spot where the body, cherished, enters the water and so the horizon is the immediate space surrounding it at such a moment. I think this is where the emotional impact of the poem resides.
I have a different take than those who would measure the horizon. I see the horizon here as the poet’s new? renewed? awareness of his own mortality, much like this splendid ku:
Suddenly the narrowing
of my own freedom.
Yes, with Adelaide, I think that the horizon looks closer out on the ocean. It’s hard to judge distance when there are no landmarks.
And what is the horizon? It’s the line that marks the limits of one’s vision. Who can see beyond it?
(Interesting, Patrick, that your Japanese friends seem to see it differently, but perhaps they miss the inherent metaphor?)
The occasion of a sea-burial (not sure what Rich Youmans had in mind, but having been born as a consequence of my father *not* having had a sea-burial during WW2, though many of his shipmate’s did have one) focuses the mind, from what I’ve heard.
Also, of course, the horizon, at sea, is where the sun rises or sets, depending on which direction you look, East or West.
Looking out at sea, without any obstructions , the horizon does seem nearer, almost possible to reach that place where the sea appears to meet the sky. And for those who believe, perhaps the soul of the person being buried at sea has an easier time of reaching that place…the sky or heaven or eternity. I don’t know if this is what the poet intended to convey, but this is what I perceive in his words.
My mother and father were ‘buried at sea,’ in San Carlos Bay, Mexico, where they had a second home and where they loved to fish. When your parents are gone the horizon indeed does draw nearer….
When I opened this page, I keenly felt this haiku. My son was buried at sea…
Here you go….
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