I am recently back from co-teaching a haiku workshop at the Song of the Morning Yoga Retreat Center, located next to national forest land on the Pigeon River, just outside of Vanderbilt, Michigan. The high was 3° the day after I arrived, but the landscape was beautiful, and inspiring for thinking about images.
For this month's installment of Metaphor and More, I wanted to look at a couple of haiku that happen to include winter imagery, and I'll talk about how simple accumulation and juxtaposition can work in a metaphor-like way. Here is the first piece, which is a good example of accumulation of image and idea:
– kate s. godsey (Modern Haiku, volume 46.3, autumn 2015)
The only concrete image in this haiku is in the first line – "snowflakes." The other two lines contain abstractions – the second line, about the notion of "perfection" (a foreign concept to nature, since everything is perfect!), and the third line, an abstraction from our human concepts of time – "instant."
When we move from the first line to the second, we get the idea that each snowflake is perfect. And implied, through the word "each ," is something that most of us have probably learned – that every snowflake is unique. So here we may get the sense that each snowflake is perfect in its uniqueness.
Then, with the addition of the third line, "instant," the piece unfolds in at least a couple of different ways. One thing it does is give the sense of how instantly the snowflakes appear and vanish. This then leads us into an awareness of the moment and how we can be present to it as a "perfect instant" – which I think is actually one of the great things about haiku – that haiku themselves do this, and being "small" (short, that is), each is itself like a unique snowflake.
So it's wonderful how we can take each line separately and see how each adds meaning – in the first, we have the image of snowflake; in the second, we have the idea that each is perfect and unique; and in the third, we have an awareness of time through the word "instant," which might make us think both of how the snowflakes appear suddenly and how they last for only an instant – which can also be a metaphor for our lives as well.
I wanted to bring your attention to how the accumulation of these lines bring in these different comparisons, and so work in a metaphor-like way. For example, we might construct an implied metaphor something like this:
snowflake = moment; or
snowflake = this perfect and transitory life
These metaphors aren't stated blatantly– nowhere in this haiku does it say "this snowflake is a moment" or "my life is a snowflake," but these thoughts and/or feelings are implied through accumulation. This is how, as Jane Hirshfield says, "…not everything will be given -- some of a poem's good weight will be found outside the poem in us. All image in this way involves the mind of metaphor: it is only tasted and understood when carried into itself." (Jane Hirshfield, 1997, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, p. 115.)
I also wanted to look at another haiku, one which is a good example of the power of the juxtaposition of images:
to my daughter
– Carolyn Hall (Modern Haiku, volume 48.3, autumn 2015)
This piece juxtaposes two primary images – the unsent letters to the daughter and the winter wind. Considering just the juxtaposition alone, we see how it lends a feeling – an emptiness, a wistfulness, a poignancy. Perhaps there is a difficulty in this relationship, or perhaps this parent discovered that she simply forgot to send the letters. In either case, an opportunity for a specific kind of communication at a particular time was missed. The juxtaposition of the images leads us to register a comparison on some level, which, if we were to consciously think about it and write it out might be something like
unsent letters = a cold or empty feeling (or a sharp feeling)
Again, we don't know the exact circumstances, but we get a feeling from these lines. Perhaps the decision not to send the letters has made the speaker sad, so she feels more sharpness of the winter. Or perhaps there were some consequences for not sending the letters that felt like a sharpness. At any rate, this shows the power that the simple juxtaposition of two images can have.
Haiku is a whole genre of its own that takes practice, just as learning any form of writing takes practice, but, if the form interests you, I encourage you to try reading and writing haiku. But it can also be wonderful just to practice writing images each day in a few short lines – something you see, hear, feel, taste, smell, or touch – this can be a powerful practice.