Srinivas S’s footprint

between waves the life of a footprint

Srinivas S (India)

(The Heron’s Nest, March 2021)

This simple monoku manifests all the key perspectives of life, but the most obvious one is the journey of life. It may consist of hardship and difficult trials. A footprint is something that is left behind in life—a past life that may be imprinted in the mind as a memory or depicts the choices a person made, the path they took. A footprint could symbolize the vivid memories of a person of life events where every step carved or reshaped one’s decisions, choices, and thinking.

The concept of waves is cleverly used in this monoku as our senses that are connected with the surrounding through waves, our brain activities, our nervous system, and our body is similar to the rhythmic movement of waves. What matters the most is whether these waves erase the footprint or fill it with water. It may also unfold the path one has chosen, the path that faces the ups and downs of life, or to and fro movement. The concept of our lives is shown in this haiku as a footprint, which is the mark that a person leaves behind as an example or memory.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

This is a beautiful monoku that sparks a conversation about the miracle of life, impermanence, reincarnation, and the afterlife. 

When I read “between waves” I see it as a metaphor for between lifetimes. In a vast scale of time, a human lifetime appears to be like a brief footprint. 

In that sense, I feel the footprint could create a sense of melancholy (from how brief human lives are) and also joy and gratitude (from how precious life is). The footprint could be from a child, an adult, or an elderly person. It could also be the footprint of a seagull or of a dog running on the beach. I like how the poet left this open for us as readers. 

The footprint also shows a single step on a long journey, as part of a larger story. In that sense, this monoku makes me wonder what stories have been passed down and recorded throughout several generations and what stories have been lost? Some stories have been preserved, while other stories have been mistranslated or buried and forgotten. I think this is a critical subject because stories and literature have significant influence and power. Stories contain our ethics, values, and principles of how to live. They create new worlds and different ways of seeing. They record history and document what we learned. They can inspire our imagination. And, they set an example. In particular, I think some of the oldest stories and legends from Indigenous People contain strong values and important lessons for us all, especially involving spirituality, community, and taking care of Mother Earth.

Additionally, I see the footprint as a metaphor for a samskara or mental impression. We could ask ourselves: compared to the sand, how real is the footprint? It seems we all leave several marks in this lifetime and some impressions seem to last longer than others. But, in the end, it seems something universal (in this case, the ocean) washes away all our impressions or footprints. Then, it seems we’re only left with the wordless present moment, without a past or a future. As the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has said: “Time and timelessness are connected. This moment and eternity are struggling within us.” On the other hand, I wonder if perhaps our impressions and memories are permanently stored in a universal consciousness. In any case, it is the silence itself that carries all words and sounds. Everything appears to rise and fall into silence. Even as the footprint disappears, the sound of the waves is in synch with the rhythm of my heartbeat. 

The footprint also shows engagement and actively participating in the play of life vs. becoming a passive observer. I think there is a time and place for active, compassionate observing, and as haiku poets we do this very well, but I think there’s also a time and place to be actively immersed in life and living without reflection or observation. In fact, sometimes, only when I return home from an adventure does a haiku appear.

This is a monoku that is simultaneously deep and simple at the same time. I think it’s also a moment that many people can relate to and has a universal appeal and power. 

A beautiful monoku. 

Book recommendations on these subjects: Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella E. Clark, The Spiritual Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

— Jacob D. Salzer (USA)

I can’t touch on more about the interpretation and meaning of this haiku that Hifsa and Jacob already expressed. They discussed the many layers of this monoku’s substance deftly.

I’ll now explore the technical points of this poem. First, there is no specific kigo or seasonal reference to be found in this haiku. We know that perhaps it is a low tide but the action of the haiku might be talking about someone walking close to the waves at any kind of tide. There is no issue is not having a kigo. The requirement for haiku to have a kigo has been loose for a century, even in Japan. Perhaps the exclusion of kigo began to be commonplace in Japan in the late 1800s, with masters such as Kawahigashi Hekigotō and Ogiwara Seisensui.

This haiku being written as one line is not experimental or strange, as haiku is originally written as one vertical line in Japanese. The major difference between English monoku and Japanese haiku is that English monoku don’t use punctuation usually. Japanese haiku have kireji, or cutting words that signify a shift in grammar or phrasing to make the two parts of a haiku distinct. Without punctuation, though, English monoku can be read in more ways sometimes:

between / waves the life of a footprint

between waves / the life of a footprint

or as one phrase: between waves the life of a footprint

In terms of sound, we have the unusual consonance of “w” which makes a “whhh” noise when said, imitating the song of waves. The “e” and “i” sounds also bring another layer of softness to the reading.

The haiku is noticeably brief. With only seven words, the poem is quite concise. This is hard to pull off, and if one is a beginner in this art form, I would not recommend writing in such a terse way. By Srinivas has skillfully used the right combination of words, sounds, and phrasing to create a strong visual effect in the reader and potent resonance.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Painting by Ken Figurski