Matúš Nižňanský’s snowflakes

monastery garden —
the sound of 

Matúš Nižňanský (Slovakia)

The deep silence in this haiku is palpable. This is an exceptional example of the power of “show not tell” in haiku. In this moment, we can hear the snowflakes falling onto the plants in the garden. There are no other sounds. Because of the delicate nature of snowflakes and plants, they further amplify the silence and deepen it.

The ancient beauty of a monastery is juxtaposed with the fresh beauty of new snowflakes. While some predict the first snow on this Earth happened 2.4 billion years ago, it is astounding to note that each and every snowflake is different and unique. Along these lines, the image of a monastery conjures up memories of many monks or nuns who lived here over many years since its construction. While this poem is clearly a haiku moment, there is also an implication that the snowflakes will continue to fall for quite some time. Simultaneously, as with many snow-related poems, this haiku feels timeless. 

While this moment was presumed to be observed and heard by the poet, the haiku itself seems to be devoid of any sense of ego. No additional people can be heard or seen. No one is standing out trying to get attention. I do have serious doubts that this monastery is vacant of monks or nuns living in it. The notion of an empty monastery could be possible, though I feel the monks or nuns are dwelling inside. They could be meditating, praying, or sleeping and likely do not physically appear in this particular scene. Regardless, even if they did physically appear to the poet, in this atmosphere, the poet and monks (or nuns) have become quiet and one with nature. 

In terms of mood, this haiku brings feelings of reverence, devotion, peace, and yūgen (mystery and depth). Snowflakes fall naturally and gently cover the earth evenly. As such, it seems all thoughts too must eventually fall and dissolve into their roots, into the ancient silence that carries them.

Jacob Salzer (USA)

A monastery is a place full of peace, reverence, and life, whereas a monastery garden sounds no less than heaven where one can find inner peace and deep experiences. The same goes for natural elements which can be experienced differently but in a unique way in that garden.

This simple yet deep poem reflects the focus of mind and heart, the subtlety of life at its peak, the alertness of all senses, the awakening consciousness, and the spiritual touch where a person’s threshold level can even feel the subtlety in the surroundings, and listen to the miraculous sounds of nature for the ultimate peace and elation. The sound of a snowflake shows the ultimate focus of a person whose body and soul have reached the level where even the smallest element of nature connects deeply.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Jacob and Hifsa went over the meaning and mood of this haiku in depth already. I’ll focus a bit on the technical side of this poem.

One thing that caught my eye immediately was that the haiku was quite brief: only six words. The art of haiku is often how you can make a strong image and create emotions within such a small space. Through kigo (seasonal references–in this case, winter), kireji (a marker that shows that separation between two parts; in this case, it is the em dash), and concision, the poet achieves effective brevity.

And talking about punctuation, the dash allows readers to pause and take in the scene. The environment of the haiku is calming and meditative, and taking a pause fits well in this context.

I think the layout of the haiku could work in multiple ways. I believe this could also work as a one-line haiku:

monastery garden the sound of snowflakes

In fact, Japanese haiku are written in a single vertical line. However, in this haiku in English, leaving us on edge with “of” on the second line is a fine idea. Sometimes, it is advised not to have only one word for the last line in order to not overemphasize. Yet, I feel the calming effect of this choice brings it merit.

Another aspect to note is the sound. The letter “s” runs through this haiku. For such a silent scene, the poem speaks quite a bit through its sound. Perhaps it is illustrating the starkness of silence in the monastery garden.

Great imagery paired with a resonant juxtaposition makes this haiku stand out as well.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

By Caroline Stroeks