Haiku and Tanka – Text to mull and dwell

Looking at the traditional Japanese structures of Haiku and Tanka … Haiku is simply three lines with the first and last line five syllables and the middle line seven … Tanka is an extension of Haiku by adding two extra seven syllable lines …

Here is an example by Doris Heitmeyer … a contemporary poet who I think is (or has been) the secretary of the American Haiku Society.

On the morning bus

I look past the handsome face

to the red maple.

When did it happen – the change

in the leaves, the change in me? 

Doris Heitmeyer, New York

The first sentence is a Haiku statement of a person (the poet) travelling on a bus … the morning bus implies that she is a regular bus traveler, perhaps on the way to work or shopping … she looks past another traveler … past a handsome face … it is up to the reader to fill in any personal details like age, sex … and where positioned on the bus … but she looks past this person to an outside view via the window … the important detail is the face … maybe she has been studying this face … and she sees the red maple … so we know it is autumn. The red maple is quite a stunning autumn tree so the maple and the face have common prominence in the eye of the traveler. If the poem ended here with just these lines it would be no more than a simple factual statement on a moment of travel on a bus.

But this moment of everyday travel has stimulated a personal reflection defined by the extension of the last two lines to form the Tanka. The important word is ‘change’ a personal change … the metaphor change in the leaves … relating to the direct reference by last three words … ‘change in me’. So there is a question to be contemplated … it is up to the reader to contemplate on the thoughts suggested … for example …

Has there been an age change … a physical change in the face of the person … or is the change an internal change within … is the change for better or for worse … how dramatic is the change … is it inevitable as with a changing season … or is this change in relation to many years …

… and of course the reader will start to think of how she or he has changed in any dramatic way.

The reader’s understanding/interpretation is dictated by personal experience and the unique personal association prompted by the words presented by the poet …

I think there is quite a contrast with such short Haiku and Tanka text compared with other forms of poetic expression … for few words are read – but much thought and contemplation is needed to appreciate the text … for those that like to dwell and mull.

Your word in my ear ...

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