Christina Sng’s Summer Rain


summer rain
finally I am all
cried out

Christina Sng (Singapore)
(previously published in hedgerow, issue #86, 2016)

I think this haiku is a fine example of Matsuo Basho’s karumi or “lightness.” Basho did not enjoy pretentiousness or elaboration. He told his disciples, “in my view, a good poem is one in which the form of the verse, and the joining of its two parts, seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.”

Why is this important in haiku? Well, haiku now is about mostly everyday life and the small things that happen to us that are actually quite big in a subtle way. I believe Basho also wanted haiku to be like reality: simple at first sight, but with so much irony, contradiction, joy, and melancholy.

We start with a seasonal reference, or a kigo. When rain comes in summer, it is much needed and much appreciated, as people want some respite from the heat and plants want nourishment.

The second line has a spiritual overtone. It implies a oneness, or a reaching of potential. The use of enjambment is interesting, as in haiku, we rarely use enjambment. Enjambment is more of a western poetic device, but in haiku it can be used occasionally to imply more meaning.

The third line seems naturally a carry through of the second line, as “finally I am all cried out.” Yet, what if the author is saying instead that she has become “all,” and that “all” is cried out? It is quite imaginative, but one can see a pure nothingness from “all” being cried out.

It is also intriguing to note that haiku are usually written in the present tense, yet we have the past tense “cried.” Well, writing in the present tense is only a guideline, as some experiences just seem to have be written in past tense:

in the shade of a willow tree
i paused for what i thought
would be just a moment

– Saigyo

a whole field of
rice seedlings planted—I part
from the willow
– Basho

and many more.

But let’s get back to the interpretations. Another way to look at the last two lines is that even though she has finally cried herself out, the summer rain is still there or comes after she has finished crying. This presents an aesthetic of continuity, which is a classic haiku theme.

Another way to see the lines is that the author is talking to the summer rain, and telling that she has cried herself out. It is not easy to know how to read the lines exactly without the punctuation, but that is one of the benefits of leaving out punctuation. In haiku, you can imply much more, usually, by having less or no punctuation.

The late Jane Reichhold noted that if a haiku feels like it needs punctuation, it probably is not phrased properly. While there are definite exceptions to this principle, it is a good thing to keep in mind while writing haiku and trying to form your lines.

Yet another take at the lines is that the summer rain is speaking “finally I am all cried out.” The personification is not explicit, but it is there with enough imagination and stretching of the mind.

To close, I would like to pay attention to the sound of the haiku. The “i” in “rain,” “finally,””I,” and “cried” seem to lend to the intensity of the haiku’s tone. The “r” in “rain” and “cried” bring more power to the juxtaposition.

Christina has written a multi-faceted and memorable haiku. It is an example we can remember when we want to write in a light way, use enjambment, or use the past tense.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

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