Saturday, March 30, 2013

An Epiphany

I am finding daily inspiration from the Tinywords website. I particularly like the fact that it is just a single haiku each day. It gives me time to ponder and mull on the work, and to find layers of depth and meaning. Here is today's:
the creek
where she was baptized
sun after rain

—Deborah P Kolodji

Issue 13.1 | 29 March 2013

This is a very affecting poem. I would be interested to know when the author wrote it, and whether she has ever revised it. Is this a first version, or a latest version? As most haiku enthusiasts know, the great master Basho was renowned for his perfectionism regarding his haiku. His disciples report how frequently he would later revise a poem because he was not happy that one or other words perfectly matched his vision. The classic example of this is the crow on a branch haiku:

on a bare branch
a crow has stopped
autumn dusk

In the original 1680 version Basho wrote:

kare eda ni
karasu no tomaritaru ya
aki no kure

However in 1689, five years before he died, he re-wrote the second line:

kare eda ni
karasu no tomari keri
aki no kure

In translation there is probably little a native English reader will be able to discern, however in Japanese the effect is marked. According to Stephen Wolff, in a paper titled "The History and Significance of Basho's Autumn Crow Haiku" as well as shortening the second line, the effects include:
"adding a sense of finality to the crow's action, [and] add[ing] another dissonant "k" sound to the already present kare, karasu, aki and kure to suggest the latent cacophonous cawing of the crow behind the silent, immobile veneer of this haiku"

What prompts this questioning and reference to this work of Basho? I have been thinking about Kolodji's poem all day. And it has had an interesting effect on me. It keeps playing in my mind, as if looking for completion. Like a song you start to hear on the radio, but which is cut off before you get to the end. It seems to me there is something about the structure and composition of this poem which seems not quite finished.

I think it is the break between the first line and second, which starts with the word "where". Sentences in English don't usually start with "where" unless they are questions, and in this poem that is not how Kolodji has used the word. So instead I keep reading the first two lines as a single line, a single thought, which locates the poet. Then the third line provides a beautiful epiphany which is intensely sensual. But still my mind seems to want some sort of intellectual contact with the poet. It seems to me she has set a scene, but failed to give us her response to it. So instead my brain keeps producing varieties of response that would give me a satisfying completion:

rendered holy
the creek where she was baptized
sun after rain

baptismal stream
sun after rain
- Strider
Of course given Kolodji's experience as a haiku poet, I assume this is indeed a final version, and that she has deliberately chosen the words and structure precisely for this effect. To force us to complete the poem. Which makes this a profoundly spiritual haiku. By leaving to the reader to complete the poem, she is almost forcing us to live a spiritual journey like the protagonist (the unnamed "she" who was baptized in the creek).

We are confronted here with the mystery of grace, or salvation. Finding the holy in the ordinary. Encountering the hand of God in our life, gently guiding us toward a meeting.

Some people like to assert haiku is intrinsically connected to Zen and Buddhism. I have elsewhere written extensively why that is not so. But here is an even more eloquent rejoinder. An extraordinary and specifically Christian haiku!

Copyright © 2013 The Haiku Apprentice

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Thank you for your interest in my blog. You are clearly a thoughtful and poetic soul!

Constructive comments are always welcome. However, as I am frequently out and about living and being inspired by the Cosmos, I may not immediately be able to moderate comments for 24 hours.

Remember, patience is a poetic virtue!