A Few Thoughts on the Haiku
It is odd even for me as I look at these two haiku I’ve selected to find that they are both about climbing a mountain, I’ve not noticed this before when I selected them a few days ago. The word mountain is a potent word in the haiku domain, surreal imagery could be, and are, created with mountains as backdrops. Quite a few times, snow-capped mountains are used in the haiku and they transport us into a different world. With so much visual poetry potential in the prompt word, somehow I preferred two haiku that don’t focus on that aspect at their core.
On their face they can either look like trivial observational haiku or deep contemplative ones and there in lies the brilliance of these two verses.
At once, I sensed a regret in the tone of this haiku. Perhaps I was projecting my own.
Is the person looking at distant mountains when they had this thought? Maybe the mountains encircling their city/town are visible from the balcony of their home. Or maybe they were walking or driving around in their town and at a particular bend in the road, the distant mountains appear over the horizon. Mountains that could be trekked as a fun adventure with friends or family. Why does the person seem to regret not climbing a mountain when they had the chance last summer? Couldn’t they do it now? The mountain is still there, so why the regret? Unless…. unless something changed in their life that prevents the mountain climbing experience from being the same as it would have been last summer. Was the person planning to climb it along with a close friend, a loved one last summer, but they didn’t. And now is too late because… is that it? This is the type of regret and melancholy I read in the haiku.
The only reason my first interpretation went toward regret was because I have regret of my own related to mountains, albeit not as sad as my interpretation. I was in Italy a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic hit for a work assignment. I was planning to visit the famous and stunning Dolomites in north Italy but I’m a lazy guy when it comes to travel. Since my assignment was for almost a year, I thought I had plenty of time to visit and experience those amazing mountains that have mesmerized me every time I’ve come across their photos on the web and so I put off the mountain climbing for a later time. Then the pandemic hit. It was so confusing and chaotic the initial weeks when Italy and the world were witnessing the evolving global nature of the pandemic. I had to cut short my trip and come back to India in order to not be stranded in Italy for who knew how long. That left a bitter taste in me and a mild but persistent regret that comes out from triggers like this beautiful haiku here.
I absolutely loved this the instant I read it. The writer could be making a simple record of the fact that he, or some unknown person, quite literally, is climbing the same mountain he did yesterday. That image itself, the simple way it is written, sparked so many thoughts and images in my head. I imagined a calm, mildly sunny day when I set out to climb the same mountain I did yesterday. Greenery abundant all across the mountain, flowers lining the hiking path, swaying gently to a persistent cold breeze and contentment on my face.
But it didn’t take long after I read the haiku for it to switch phase into a contemplative and existential version of itself. I do not know what thoughts the writer had in mind when they penned this. This haiku too has melancholy and dejection written all over it, seen from one angle. The person is having to climb the same mountain today, wade through the same troubles that he did yesterday. Does it ever end? Does he get to rest? Does he get to hope that he could someday not have to climb this mountain again, instead rest in an armchair at his home looking at the distant peaks and being happy for the distance between him and the mountains?
There is a soul-crushing depth to this monoku if one interprets it as being existential. But to not drag people down into gloom by such dreaded thoughts, one could also put a more hopeful and inspirational spin to this. The mountain of troubles is still there before him. But he has hope, so he is again climbing yesterday’s mountain.
— Sankara Jayanth Sudanagunta
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