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Editors Choice Haiku

WHR March 2018


Editor’s Choice



                    neither the river
                    nor the shadow in it
                    knows about the human conflict 


Aju Mukhopadhyay

 

Life has been often compared to a river in Japan. It is an apt comparison in a number of profound ways. Humans go through many different stages from the birth to death as rivers do from their source to the sea. No two men or women are the same, just like every river is different. We are peaceful as well as violent. So are rivers. We are constantly changing as rivers are, also. Nothing stays or remains the same. Everything flows constantly. Nothing is permanent.

The haiku under review is food for thought. Anthropomorphism is said to be bad and should be avoided, according to some haiku fundamentalists. While there is an element of truth in it, such narrowness kills interesting and provocative haiku such as this one.

The first thought which has been provoked is whether or not the river or the shadow does not really know about the human conflict. Many samurai battles in different parts of Japan were fought actually in rivers. The famous one which comes to one’s mind is the battle of Kawanaka-jima in Nagano Prefecture in which forces of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought not once but several times in mid 16th century at the confluence where two rivers met. In our time, no Japanese can forget the rivers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which turned red, carrying thousands of corpses after the explosion of atomic bombs. In Europe, rivers played vitally important strategic roles both in offensive and defensive actions in WWII. In 49BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon.

Now, what really is the shadow in the second line? Both river and shadow have definite articles in this haiku and are in a singular form. So, they are specific objects which the author knows and is talking about. It may be a shadow of a huge tree or one which is cast by a house. It may be a dark thing seen in the water. To me both the river and the shadow are presented as symbols suggesting some abstract notions. The river is a symbol of nature, calm and peaceful, at least when or while the author is looking at it.  It looks dark because of the shadow, but the author probably assumes that there is something there which is difficult to identify. Being a shadow, it is passive and not likely to start a war. It does not even physically exist.

It may be that the author is talking about a specific, and even special, river, say, the Ganges. Then, the matter becomes rich and profound million times over. One’s life is not long enough to travel through the mythology connected with the Ganga Mata. This haiku might have just captured it in three lines.

 

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