Wednesday, January 9, 2013

One Man's Maple Moon: Lightning Tanka by Beverley George

English Original

a lightning strike
splits our old apple tree --
I never dreamed
the death that parted us
would not be one of ours

First Place, 2006 TSA International Tanka Contest

Beverley George

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

劈裂我們的蘋果樹 --

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

劈裂我们的苹果树 --

Bio Sketch

Beverley George is the past editor of Yellow Moon and the founder/editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal 2006 - . In September 2009 she convened the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference, in Terrigal, Australia. Beverley presented papers on haiku in Australia at the 3rd Haiku Pacific Rim conference in Matsuyama, Japan in 2007, and on Australian tanka at the 6th International Tanka Festival, Tokyo 2009. She was the president of the Australian Haiku Society 2006-2010.


  1. The Judges' Comments (

    This poem opens with a violent, vivid metaphor that expands with each rereading. An apparently solid couple has suffered a major loss. Is it the death of a child? Another close family member? Is it the relationship itself that has died? We are not told. The event came unexpectedly, out of the blue like a bolt of lightning, and it has shattered their world and their relationship. The poet thought that they were unassailable, with deep roots, like the old apple tree, and indeed, it had been a fruitful union, but in that very fruit lay their vulnerability.The shock and horror of this event has split them apart, as the lightning strike has split the tree, to the point that they have separated. The poet couldn't have imagined anything but death having the power to effect such a separation. But like an evil genie, fate played a trick.

    Additional meaning appears when we remember that the apple has age old symbolic weight in western religion and literature. The apple, and the tree of knowledge upon which it grew, were the source of all human guilt and suffering, especially between the first couple. Guilt and mutual blame are then often major factors in subsequent separation. The apple tree, which so dominates this tanka, thereby takes on even added resonance, and the true complexity of the metaphor emerges. With exactly placed alliteration (strike/split, dreamed/death) and strong assonance centered on the letter "o" (out/old, could not one/ours), the rhythm beats its way to the end, leaving a sense of inexorability. The raw pain of this couple, the terrible knowledge they must share, and now share alone, is driven home deeper and deeper, revealing a poem of extraordinary power and sympathy.

  2. Beverley's award-winning tanka is tightly structured into two parts, separated by "--.": the upper verse is the objective description of a brutal natural scene, successfully setting the thematic/emotive context for the poem, and it's followed by the speaker's reflection on existential angst -- death.