The Frayed Rope: A Favourite Haiku

First published in Woodnotes #3, Winter 1990, page 10.

 

                putting away the sled

                the frayed rope

                drags in the mud

 

                                —Jane Reichhold

                                    Modern Haiku 16:3, Autumn 1985

 

This haiku breathes warm, melancholy air on the frosted glass of childhood memory. In but a few words Jane’s gentle haiku paints a scene, sets a mood, and tells a tale. The scene hinges on “sled”—at first suggesting winter. The mood is a child’s—one of reluctance, perhaps, yet one of tired and satisfied pleasure. And the tale told is of a child’s long afternoon spent sledding and playing in the snow. What better theme for a winter haiku?

        But as it unfolds, the poem is tensed by the suggestion of warmth—the rope is dragging in mud. Could it be spring? Or has an early snowfall melted to Indian summer? This idea resonates, and perhaps the contrast between cold and warmth is heightened by the similar consonants ending both “sled” (cold) and “mud” (warmth). In the end, “mud” suggests melting snow, and implies that the child’s season of play has drawn to a close. And happy this play must have been, for the sled’s rope is well-used and frayed.

        There lies the poem’s center. The weather’s changes cannot be altered, no matter how the child dreams. Indeed, the slow melting of the snow may be the reason the child puts the sled away. But the reality must at last be accepted, for always, warmth follows winter; one cannot arrest the endless tide of changing seasons.

        This leaves only the frayed rope—the center of the poem. The fraying reveals the child’s love of life. The child has chosen to enjoy the snow while it lasts. And in that respect the child’s choice to play, to enjoy sledding for a fleeting afternoon, is not a diversion from the mundane realities of life, but life’s purpose instead. And this, above all, may be the essence of haiku—to show a love of life.