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Shambhala Sun | January 2014

EXCERPT

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 

kawadzu tobikomu

mizu no oto

 

My Japanese guest had responded to my effort with stunned incomprehension before he doubled over laughing.



Excerpted from the January 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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