In praise of haiku – and silence

Poetic responses to the silent skies – and an election aside.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume 18 April 2010
Cloud of unknowing: Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume on 18 April 2010 (Wikimedia Commons)
Chris Warren, currently stranded in Japan by the volcanic ash you can see here spewing from Eyjafjallajokull, has sent another contribution to his haiku collection:

Raked temple garden
Perfect but for a dead twig
Fallen across folds

Outwardly, then, all is calm, even if his situation, trapped far from home, is less than ideal. Haiku, it seems, are of the moment, for Herman van Rompuy, the new President of the European Council, has just published his own volume. The Guardian comments that ‘his passion is for a form of Japanese verse that is the bureaucratic equivalent of the limerick’. The poet himself prefers to describe the form as ‘fun and frolicsome’. As I hope the examples here show, haiku can achieve far more.

Chris inspired a response of my own, after a visit to the Long Gallery at Montacute House last week. It contains Tudor and Elizabethan portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, including figures such as Essex and Francis Bacon, posing in their finery and haughty demeanour, whilst the roads outside are peppered with election posters – including many for Annunziata Rees-Mogg, who must surely also be from a family of ancient entitlement. She is (her father edited the Times) and just to make the point, her brother Jacob (‘the headline-prone 37-year-old banker’, says the Independent) is standing in the next constituency. ‘Economies of scale ought to be possible when it comes to printing the ‘Vote Rees-Mogg’ posters,’ quipped the editor’s daughter. She was right – the landscape was peppered with blue signs, with only a solitary yellow ‘Vote Tessa’ poster stuck, incongruously, at the edge of the beach at Burnham-on-Sea.

Outside in Spring sun
Annunziata seeks my vote;
Here cool statesmen stare.

[Update, 24 April: lovely article by Ian Jack on the Rees-Mogg candidacies in The Guardian: ‘In pursuit of Somerset royalty in the hyper-marginal hinterland: It’s hard enough for the Tories to demonstrate social inclusivity with one highly privileged candidate. But two?’]

Today’s Guardian carries a haiku from Patrick Curry on the silent skies themselves (I hope, Chris, it’s some consolation):

Glorious, the spring
skies thrumming with silence – and
no one had to die

The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, was also struck by the quiet. She apologises to those stranded (including, implicitly, our friends in Japan) then relishes the kinds of sounds ‘that Shakespeare heard and Edward Thomas and, briefly, us’ – for every cloud has a ‘Silver Lining’. Hear Carol Ann Duffy read it the poem on the BBC site or read the full text on the Guardian site. It’s not a haiku, though….

Photograph by Boaworm from Wikimeida Commons, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

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