Monday, June 24, 2013

Poetic Musings: Plum Blossoms Haiku by Chen-ou Liu

In Memory of My Teacher and Friend, Paul Crudden

a deceased friend
taps me on the shoulder --
plum blossoms falling

Heron’s Nest Award, The Heron’s Nest, 13:2, June 2011
Grand Prize: Poem of the Year, The Heron’s Nest, Vol. 13, 2011

Some haiku please us from the first reading. Some beckon us to move beyond limits we’ve assigned to what constitutes “proper” English-language haiku. Some explode into our consciousness with all the stunning beauty of the first blooms of spring. And some do all these things and more. Chen-ou Liu’s is one of those. At first reading, I loved it. Then I questioned my response, asking, “Doesn’t this break a whole bunch of Haiku Rules? Isn’t this metaphor? Is it gendai? Am I supposed to like this as much as I do?” It seemed daringly outside my comfort zone. Then I simply let it take me into a world that was at once surreal — and so real. Whether a moment such as this triggers the memory of a loved one (a metaphorical tap) — or, for just a split second, we forget and turn, expecting to see them there — I trust many of us have experienced this. It is a moment as filled with poignancy as this poem. We are literally touched at the deepest level — with inexpressible longing — and with a jolt of such joy mixed into our sorrow we can only feel blessed.

Jane Reichhold's Comment:

In Chinese and Japanese literature, the butterfly was long used as a symbol of a departed soul. Chen-ou has taken the idea that the departed are still among us and found a very new and touching way of expressing this idea that we can only manifest by feeling. If you have ever stood under a tree as the petals drift down you will know how very light this touch is. And yet you can feel it and it seems a blessing.

To make the leap to thinking it is the touch of a departed friend is genius. This is why we need poets - to discover such truths, ideas, concepts. If we could remember that the touch of every blossom, the wetness of a raindrop, every glint of light was a reminder of the departed who surround us, how much more meaningful our lives would be. How much more reverence we would have for the simplest thing. This is why we have haiku - to remind us of profound ideas in simple things.

The association between the sadness of a friend who passed away, and the blossoms which are also passing is clear. Yet out of this sadness Chen-ou has found a ray of pleasure. He is not alone. His friend is close enough to touch him as are all our beloved departed. This is a very beautiful haiku and well-deserving of all of its honours.-- excerpted from FAVOURITE HAIKU chosen by Jane Reichhold

1 comment:

  1. "The plum blossom is one of the most famous flowers in China and one of the most popular subjects in Chinese paintings. It is a noble and unsullied flower that braves the cold and brings vigor and vitality to the world. The plum has five petals symbolizing five auspiciousnesses. The plum flower, pine tree, bamboo, and chrysanthemum form the "four plants of virtue". Together bamboo and plum trees represent man and wife. Plum, pine trees, and bamboo together are known as the "Friends in Winter" because all three grow tall and straight even in the coldest weather. The three together are a symbol of lasting friendship."

    -- Excerpted from "Chinese Plum Blossom Paintings"