ON HOW I MAKE SENSE OF IT

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Calligraphy by Jūlija added Nov 29th, 2017. CLICK HERE for more on Jūlija and our work together.
………………

…………………………..Stumped like this,
…………………………..we hear the Years
…………………………………………………..cascade
…………………………..And stoop to grace
…………………………..the Water
……………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

………………
a.) The poem has exactly 17 syllables, so it’s a haiku. That makes me slow down, reflect, get myself ready.

b.) The rhythm is, surprisingly, strict iambic — count the syllables and see. There are precisely 9 iambs which should add up to 18 as each foot has 2 syllables: da dah. So how can there be just 17, an odd number? Indeed, that’s the sort of simple-minded question any haiku worth its salt asks us, of course, and why we never get bored with the good ones. And the simpler they are the better — and the simpler we are too, needless to say.

c.) Perfection-in-imperfection, like everything. In fact there’s an invisible event at the very beginning of the poem which is unwritten, unaccented, and inaudible.  It’s simply not there in the poem — the first step has been lopped off, so to speak, truncated, ‘silenced’ as we say about an enquiry or execution, ‘stumped’ as we say in the forest or when we’re handicapped or failing. That’s why the first audible word in the poem works so well as a one syllable foot overshadowing the whole poem. “Stumped” from the very start, the poem is overshadowed by no shadow and left with no tree to bear, look up to, or hide under.

d.) “Stumped” is in the passive voice, an involuntary event that happens to someone or something — it’s done to you or me, not by us. The complementary “stoop” at the beginning of the second part is ‘active,’ as we say, and ‘finite.’ It’s what we-the-stumped do about it in the poem. And I’d say that rhetorical tension makes the poem a ‘haiku’ far more than the syllables do, or the layout — at least it does for me, and I’ve been living with this poem for over 20 years. Indeed, I’m writing this not because I wrote the poem but because it’s still talking to me.

e.)  There’s an even noisier event toward the end of the poem which constitutes a whole foot in itself, as huge as it’s empty and speechless.  The final ” ‘s” on “water’s” cracks off the edge of the 5th line to plunge down through the open space and land next to “fall” on the 6th line far below at the end. And it shushes us as it goes, indeed silences us completely as it plummets through space to rest at last beside the noun it owns at the end in perfect silence.

f.) A technical detail to further that. Like so many final events in stress-based languages, the apostrophe-s on “water’s” is not counted as a syllable. Yet in actual practice we pronounce “water’s” in three distinct parts: wa/- ter/- ‘s, almost as if there were three syllables. In vowel based, tonal languages as in Asia, for example, this is hard to say as there is no vowel to support the final consonant, and what does one do about that? Indeed, that’s why I’m called Kitofer where I live, the crush of 3 consonants at the beginning of my name, Christopher, being almost impossible to enunciate in an unstressed, tonal, vowel-based culture.

g.) Perfect iambics, yes, but not perfect pentameters — the poem is deficient again as there are only four feet in the final line. On the other hand, there’s so much happening in that apostrophe s as it tumbles off the edge of the poem that the numerical deficiency is filled up with something else in mid air, and in a poetical as well as a graphic sense fills in for the missing foot. In addition, the missing syllable makes just the right sound in its spectacular descent, the cascading sssssssss of the star which brings the poem to an end with no ripples, impatience or movement in ‘fall.”

h.) I’m pleased to say that none of the above attempts to explain anything at all about the meaning of the poem — haikus worth their salt rarely do. That’s why we so often choose to live our whole lives beside the ones we like best, as I have beside this one. They are never stingey.

Christopher

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