the pears ripen
© Lorin Ford
Modern Haiku, 44:1, 2013
The subtlety, sly haikai humor, and ekphrastic nature of this haiku all unfold gradually and as imperceptibly as the ripening fruit it ends with, perhaps leaving many readers perplexed. Even without deeper understanding, the surface meaning is pleasant and intriguing, with the connection to the ripening pears and the dance left open to interpretation—and while this is not a haiku that will speak universally, for some it will have a delicious, piquant charm, providing a refreshing change of pace from the ordinarily somber tone of much of English-language haiku with its hidden element of absurdist humor.
The first line brings to mind an intimate setting. A couple slow dancing in their home perhaps, or in a private garden, we are brought into a quiet, intimate moment. The music is the first clue that something is amiss—famous for being a precursor of minimalist music, writing “wallpaper music,” and amassing a laundry list of bizarre eccentricities, Erik Satie was a Fin de siècle French composer who dabbled in Dada and surrealism, peppered his music with strange commands like from the tip of the thought, and be clairvoyant, and is most famously remembered as the composer of the Gymnopédies—slow, undanceable tunes whose melodies evoke an ancient, sensual melancholy, and whose unusual portmanteu name brings to mind Greek youths dancing nude through fantastical neoclassical settings à la Maxfield Parrish. This is not typical dance music, even for a quiet, slow moment of romance, the pulse being almost painfully lugubrious and the mood somber—music more suitable for ruminations on a rainy day.
The third line brings in a kigo, placing the ku in late summer or early fall, the pears ripening on the trees, or perhaps in a bowl in the dimly lit-house—our setting is still uncertain. The pear’s shape echoes the curves of the woman or women dancing, hinting at fecundity and sensuality, perhaps even a sexual awakening as ripeness is attained. But is it truly a kigo, a shift to nature and a seasonal reference? Here, the riddle is solved, and those who are familiar with the composer’s ouvre will realise the clever twist and reference to one of Satie’s many vexing works, worthy of Magritte in the wordplay and absurdity inherent to its name: “Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear.”
It is rare to have such obscure literary, musical, or art references in contemporary English-language haiku. In Japanese haiku, such literary excess or eccentricity has a long history, but the over-dependence on kyakkan shasei (objective life sketching) and Bashō‘s Zen infused sabi aesthetics that lingers from the early days of ELH often robs us of such moments of subtle recognition and wry humor that is so distinctly haiku, rather than a dabbling with the senryu range of caricature and satire. Ford’s bringing a touch of Satie’s own Dadaist humor into the world of the Japanese forms shows the composer to be a surprisingly appropriate choice; the ku echoes the wordplay and eccentric humor of the Danrin school of haikai or the quirky surrealism of post-war Japanese haiku. This is one of those verses that I wish I had written myself, for it is utterly charming and perfect in a quiet, subtle way—a unique and thoroughly modern masterpiece.
Erik Satie ~1903~ Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire:
– Clayton Beach