Monday, May 20, 2013

Panta Rhei

Panta Rhei

As I have recently posted, I am spending more time with the haiku of James Hackett.  Here is an example of his Haiku that I find particularly striking:

As twilight tolls,
petals fall into the dark stream
revealing its flow.

(Haiku Poetry: Volume One, James Hackett, page 27)

I find it to be a truly fine example of the craft of haiku.  The line count is 4-8-5, for an overall count of 17 syllables.  Each line ends on a single syllable word.  Lines 1 and 3 are united by a subtle rhyme: tolls/flow.  Line 1 makes use of alliteration with ‘twilight tolls’.  This is a single sentence haiku, each line is a grammatical phrase, all three phrases combine to form a visual and energetic unity.

The time is set as twilight.  The season is set as spring with the use of the seasonal reference ‘petals fall’.  Spring is normally a time of increasing warmth, or yang, energy.  But with the phrase ‘petals fall’ this brings to the haiku a more somber cast and reveals the yin presence within the yang season.  This sense of somberness is reinforced by the time (twilight) and by the phrase ‘dark stream’ and by the falling motion of the petals.

There are three types of motion in this haiku.  First there is the time of twilight, when the sun is visibly declining.  Second, there is the falling motion of the petals, which replicates the falling of the sun.  And then there is the horizontal motion of the stream, whose motion adds a counterpoint to the motion of the time and the setting of the falling petals.

In fact, everything in this haiku is in motion, though at first the reader might not realize it.  Twilight, at first, appears still, but it is soon over.  And then there is the motion of the petals and the motion of the stream.  But the motion of the stream is a hidden motion; in this aspect the hidden motion of the stream resembles the hidden motion of the twilight.  Both are constantly moving and shifting, but it is not always clear to our senses that this is so.

In my mind’s eye I think of this as late March or early April.  I see the petals as apple blossoms.  The stream is full from the spring runoff.  When a stream is full and moving at a steady pace, it sometimes will appear glass smooth even though it is moving rapidly.  No waves manifest to give the viewer a sense of movement.  So I think of myself as watching this stream, perhaps the Russian River or one of its tributaries, at the end of the day.  Then there is a brief breeze; I interpret the ‘tolling’ of the first line as a gentle wind.  And the wind touches the apple tree and petals drift down from the tree onto the water, and suddenly the petals are swept away on the rushing current of the quiet river.

The true nature of the river is uncovered when the petals suddenly recede into the distance.  As a metaphor, this haiku has a lot of resonance.  I think of examples like how our bodies are constantly changing, aging, but we don’t recognize it until that change is shown to us in some incident, reflected back to us.  This can be a casual comment someone makes, dropping like a petal onto the river of our lives. 

Or we have in our minds the house we grew up in, and then we go to visit it again, after decades, and we see how much it has changed, and by implication, how much we have changed. 

This haiku has many resonances in our lives and illuminates what I think of as the rivering nature of the world in which we live.  But we often do not realize the constancy of change in which we live and which we are.  Just like the river which at fist looks motionless, but is actually constantly flowing, so also our lives, which may feel static at times, are in constant motion.  This haiku is like one of the petals falling into the stream; but the haiku falls into the stream of our mind, revealing its flow.

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