Monday, July 27, 2015

Into Great Silence: Richard Wright's Haiku 743

Into Great Silence

There are haiku which depict a scene in a way that open that scene to a luminosity that reverberates in the mind and heart of the reader.  Richard Wright’s haiku 743 has that effect on me:

In the still orchard
A petal falls to the grass;
A bird stops singing.

The haiku is in 5-7-5. Each line is a grammatical unit.  Lines 1 and 2 form a complete sentence.  Line 3 is also a sentence.  The two sentences are linked by the use of a semi-colon which indicates that line 3 is an additional part of lines 1 and 2.  I think you could read line 3 as saying that the petal falls to the grass as a bird stops singing; the two are happening at the same time. 

The setting is an orchard in spring.  The season word is ‘petal’ and with that single word the season is established.  The word ‘grass’ narrows the focus a little; it would seem to be mid-spring or the height of spring.  For this reason I think of apple blossoms rather than plum when in my mind’s eye I depict the scene.

The orchard is still; there is no wind.  Into the stillness there is the smallest movement; a petal falls.  At the same time a bird stops singing, deepening the stillness with silence.

The entire haiku depicts a movement into silence and stillness.  Line 1 gives us an orchard untouched by the wind.  A petal falls, then comes to rest on the grass.  The movement of the petal ends in stillness.  A bird has been singing, but then stops.  The falling petal moves into stillness, merging with the stillness of the orchard.  The bird ceases its singing, moving into silence, merging with the stillness of the orchard.

I often go for a morning walk.  I live in a rural area of Northern California.  My walk is on a rural road which isn’t very wide; if two cars meet one of them has to pull over to the let the other one pass.  For this reason, drivers go slow and there is not much traffic on the road, so I don’t have to worry about speeding cars or crossing traffic. 

I usually walk in the hour before sunrise.  I have, now and then, noticed that just as the sun sends its first rays over the horizon sometimes there is a pause, of maybe 20 seconds, in the world around me.  For example, where I live there is a lot of bird life.  In the morning they are all singing and chattering.  But just at that moment when the sun first appears, sometimes there will be a pause, the birds will fall silent for a bit.  If the sky is cloudy, or the morning is misty, this doesn’t happen.  But on a clear morning I have observed this on a number of occasions.

This haiku reminds me of that experience; when nature moves into a silence and stillness and offers us a vision of that realm.  This vision of that realm of silence and stillness beckons us, and suggests to us, that there is a realm of silence and stillness that can be found within.  This haiku can be read as an allegory for that interior experience of silence and stillness; that realm where thoughts fall and come to rest on the ground of being, where feelings and desires cease their seductive singing, and we experience the inner serenity that can be found within.  This is a haiku about return; returning to the primordial silence and stillness out of which all things emerge.

The realm of nature and the realm of the mind within are porous to each other; they resonate with each other.  I think that is one reason why some haiku can be so moving to us; because they unite these two dimensions of our experience.  It is difficult to articulate the realm of mind because it is so close to us.  Haiku offer us a way of comprehending the interior realm through depicting nature and inviting us to see how nature and mind are part of the same vastness; that there are seasons of nature and that there are seasons of the mind, that there is a stillness found in nature which is the stillness that can be found within, in our own minds and in our hearts.

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