Shambhala Sun | January 2014
Poem of Silence
With just seventeen syllables, the essence of haiku is
what isn’t said. MARY ROSE O'REILLEY on reciting Basho to the Northern forest.
Last winter I lived on an island in Puget Sound. My bedroom
window faced one of those green, fecund forests of the Pacific Northwest from
which it seems anything can emerge: a mule deer, a dinosaur, an angel, an idea
about what one’s next step in life might be. I hoped for the latter.
Before I left for this retreat, my friends and I strategized
about staying in touch. We have so many ways to do this nowadays—clutching our
wee-pods and me-pods, over-stimulated and overloaded—that it’s easy to lose
someone forever. My friend Katherine didn’t want to telephone or write letters,
as she was struggling with a deep grief that resisted sentences.
“Let’s just send haiku postcards to each other now and
then,” she said. So we did. Carried away with enthusiasm, I decided to write a
haiku every morning, to mark the path of my life on the island.
Nothing in my apprenticeship to poetry had taught me how to
work in this disciplined Japanese form, which is good, because I would have
learned how to obsess over syllable counting or some pseudo-Zen effect. There
was, however, one poem by Basho, the seventeenth-century master of the form,
which I knew by heart in Japanese, because I’d memorized it long ago to greet a
guest from Kyoto:
furu ike ya
mizu no oto
My Japanese guest had responded to my effort with stunned
incomprehension before he doubled over laughing.