folding and unfolding
the unheard clap
of the butterfly
Brass Bell, October 2015
© Adjei Agyei-Baah
This points directly to the notion that haiku is a poetry of insight. The things we don’t realize are around us are brought to the surface.
With the start of the haiku, it seems we are almost going in slow motion, witnessing the butterfly as a detached observer. And in those moments of detachment, often we can experience phenomena that are seemingly hidden.
With the word “unheard,” we comprehend that the author did not actually hear the clap of the butterfly’s wings, but understood in his observation that he could not hear it. It is a metaphor for all things we don’t hear, and in a wider view, what we don’t experience.
We believe our reality to be as it is, though we cannot experience everything that is happening. Then what is truly objective? What would complete objective reality be like? Is there such a thing?
As haiku writers, we try to be objective as possible with what senses we have. However, in this haiku, I believe the author is directing our attention to the fact to just how limited we are in our ability to experience life and to understand it completely.
Getting away from philosophy for a moment, I enjoy how the lines flow. The last line comes as a eureka moment in the pacing itself, and the lines in general make the reader read slowly. This helps us to really take in the moment.
The sound works well to give a lilting feeling to it with the letter “l” in “folding,” “unfolding,” “clap,” and “butterfly.”
Now back to the act itself: the clap. What does the clap indicate? The author does not say, which is a classic haiku technique. If you over-explain in haiku, you usually are doing a disservice to your readers. They should have space to figure out and feel things for themselves.
The clap could be applause, either congratulatory or mocking. The clap could be an alert to danger. The clap could also refer to the famous Zen riddle: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Also in Zen, clapping is used to wake students up to the awareness of the moment. The butterfly could be a teacher of ours, and we don’t even know it.
But the clap could simply be. The clap could be just a clap. And with it being unheard, the author may have heard the unheard clap in his mind, and got immersed in that sound. By the tone of the haiku, this seems quite plausible.
Whatever we think about the clap, its unheard sound is heard in the minds of each reader of this haiku.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky