In haiku, a flower is just a flower. . . except when it’s not. Haiku poets have a way of superimposing the human world over the world of nature to achieve meanings that veer off in unexpected directions. Sometimes the effect is profound, at other times humorous. Either way, the 17 syllables of a good haiku add up to more than 17 syllables of significance. Haiku pack big meanings into small packages. The result is always a surprise.
Each of the winning and honorable mention poems for last month’s challenge produced that feeling of surprise in an original way.
- Mary Teslow’s white morning glory marks the moment when lovers are separated by death…and “we” gives way to “I”.
- Lyntha Nelson’s morning glories emerge from their awkward, troublesome “teenage years” with an overdue gift of flowers.
- Michael Flanagan gives new meaning to one-upmanship as morning glories vie with tomatoes for the top spot on the trellis.
Congratulations to all! To read additional poems of merit from last month’s challenge—with brief comments from the editors of 17—Haiku in English—visit our Tricycle Haiku Challenge group on Facebook.
You can submit a haiku for the October challenge here.
Fall Season Word: Morning Glory
our “we” turns to “I”
the moment you pass away
white morning glory
— Mary Teslow
Because morning glories reach their peak shortly before the first frost, they were associated with feelings of wistfulness in early Japanese poetry. One vine can produce hundreds of blossoms over the course of a season, but each flower lives only for one day. The name “morning glory” derives from the belief that they unfurl at sunrise. In reality, the flowers open before dawn.
The poet has crafted a haiku of such devastating simplicity that there is no need for us to understand any of this context. “Two” becoming “one” reduces the experience of loss to its lowest common denominator. The use of pronouns instead of numbers flies like an arrow straight to the heart.
The juxtaposition of that loss with a white morning glory felt apt but somewhat mysterious at first. Then I remembered that more people die at dawn than at any other time of day. That meant the poem could be read as a death vigil. . . with a single white flower becoming visible at the window just as the day begins to break.
This was the only “morning glory” haiku submitted by the poet for the challenge. My strong conviction, which I confirmed with her later, was that it recorded a recent loss.
A note of further interest: The haiku is addressed to the poet’s beloved, thus lightly contradicting the substance of the poem. This captures the emotional dissonance that many people report experiencing after the death of a spouse—the feeling of their being gone. . . but also still there.
hey – morning glory
I suffered your teenage years
thanks for the flowers
— Lyntha Nelson
atop the trellis
laughing at the tomatoes
one Morning Glory
— Michael Flanagan
You can find September’s season word and haiku tips below:
Submit as many haiku as you please using the submission form below. Just be sure to include this month’s season word.
Fall season word: “Morning glory”
If it were a job
to gaze at morning glories,
how would I apply?
I happened upon a morning glory in full bloom and instantly thought of the famous haiku by Bashō:
Think of me as one
who eats breakfast while gazing
at morning glories
It occurred to me that Bashō must have considered this his job description. Good work if you can get it.
Submit as many haiku as you wish that include the fall season word “morning glory.” Your poems must be written in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively, and should focus on a single moment of time happening now.
Be straightforward in your description and try to limit your subject matter. Haiku are nearly always better when they don’t have too many ideas or images. So make your focus the season word and try to stay close to that.
REMEMBER: To qualify for the challenge, your haiku must be written in 5-7-5 syllables and include the word “morning glory.”
HAIKU TIP: LIVE IN THE THREE-CORNERED WORLD!
In his 1906 novel Kusamakura (“Grass Pillow”), Natsume Sōseki summed up the artistic lifestyle in a sentence that has since become famous: “Putting it as a formula, I suppose you could say that an artist is a person who lives in the triangle which remains after the angle which we may call common sense has been removed from this four-cornered world.”
The protagonist of Kusamakura spends his days wandering through the countryside in search of poetry without giving much thought to the bottom line of economic utility. For which reason, Sōseki’s “formula” is a kind of inside joke. Haiku are accomplished by removing that which the world considers important, but the poet knows to be extraneous or even false. The result is a poem of three lines—not unlike those that make up a triangle.
Some years ago, I gave a talk in California entitled “Nature Is a Moneyless Economy.” I was supposed to speak on Japanese Buddhism, but the stock market had crashed the day before, and it was all anyone could think about. So I put on my haiku hat instead. The point of the talk was simple. Remove the bottom line from Nature and it would remain unaffected. The rains would fall. The seasons would turn. The flowers would bloom as they had for millions of years. All without getting paid.
As a human construct, money has caused catastrophic damage to the natural world. But money is not real. Eco entrepreneurs are just entrepreneurs.
An accomplished haiku poet, Sōseki knew all of this. In the triangle that remains after our concern with profit has been removed, all that is essential to life is fully preserved. In its focus on Nature and the seasons, the “three-cornered world” of the haiku poet feels smaller than the world of getting and spending, yet more beautiful and durable.
That is what makes it possible to find solace in the small world of haiku, even as the larger world spirals out of control. It’s what makes it possible to say important things, urgent things—even if we say them playfully, using only 17 syllables and a season word. Haiku is the three-cornered world that remains when the illusion of human supremacy has been removed.
A note on morning glories: Morning glories belong to the Convolvulus genus, a class of climbing vines with trumpet-shaped flowers that usually open in the early morning and close by the end of the day. Morning glories have long been a favorite subject for haiku, the most famous example being a poem written by the Buddhist nun and haiku master Chiyo-ni (1703-1775):
The morning glory
has captured my well bucket—
I beg for water
Morning glory vines grow throughout the summer but blossom most profusely in autumn, for which reason they are associated with that season in haiku.
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