Friday, 20 April 2012

A Perfect Haiku

"The shadows, like life,
"moved beneath summer daylight.
"Evening reclaims them."

A haiku is three lines of five, seven and five syllables, an exercise in verbal economy. In this haiku, two one-syllable words differing by just one letter refer to life whereas fifteen syllables refer to light. Shadows move because the light moves because a planet moves. Planetary motion matters in science fiction (sf) but not in a poem about what is seen on a terrace in a late afternoon. The haiku is framed by a chapter of an sf novel. In a far future, a poet has leisure to spend time watching shadows. His poem about them compares them to life and thus is about life. Like summer shadows, life is beautiful but brief. In this context, evening evokes not only age and death but even imminent racial extinction.

Like a photograph or a very short film, Anderson's haiku captures a moment of fading light (present tense: "...reclaims...") at the end of a sunny day (past tense: "...moved..."). The person in that moment contemplates both that moment and all moments - life. His companion suggests that he could have compared their artistic revivals from the database, like the haiku form, to transient shadows. He and she live in a darkened city with few remaining human inhabitants. She rejects the suggestion that she bear a child but they agree to the diversion of an adventure in reality, training for a wilderness trip to the Himalayas. They appear in only one chapter of a novel spanning billions of years.

"Evening reclaims them." (1)

Appreciation of a haiku requires more than seventeen syllables. After appreciating a historical trilogy, a fantasy tetralogy and a multi-volume sf series by Anderson, it is good to pause on three lines and a single moment. This haiku can be appreciated either in its novelistic context or independently as universally applicable. 

(1) Poul Anderson, Genesis, New York, 2001, p. 91.

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