down a riverbed of sand …
the memory of water
— Kala Ramesh (India)
(Highly Commended, Santoka International Haiku and Haiga Contest)
This is one of my favourite haiku. It is well crafted with all the necessary flavours of a great haiku that touches all the senses. I loved the way Kala used personification or a hint of surrealism, which lets our minds wander through this imagery and dig deeper into the theme of this haiku.
‘Notes trickle’ is rhythmic and musical to my ears. While reading, I paused for a moment and enjoyed the subtle and soothing sound of water. We all hear the sound of water daily but only a few of us truly listen to it and enjoy the sense of here and now where nothing else matters. It takes us further to the unseen part of this haiku where ‘trickle down’ allows the sound, message, or piece of music to be absorbed into the memory of a riverbed. This is how a haiku connects us to what is ‘beyond seeing’.
A riverbed of sand is the abode of many tiny creatures. It seems its water sings a song or a lullaby for the dwellers of the riverbed. It’s the sound of water that subtly captures the pulse of wind, rain, sunlight, moonlight, or the environment and transforms it into something that only active listeners can feel and hear.
The memory of water could mean a sort of live recording of the true essence of life, where even harsh weather or climate change can’t stop water from singing its songs. There is a lesson here for all of us to see how powerful the language of music is, which nature speaks every day to inspire us to sing along or at least appreciate. It’s a true blessing. Nature never ceases to connect with us through the language of its sound. With memories, we have sound, and it is important to recall the most positive of memories to transform our lives.
I can’t ignore the mystical or meditative side of this haiku. To me, it’s about mindfully focusing and observing every single moment of nature. This helps us to be crystal clear in our thoughts and soothe our minds with music—the most powerful language. If I were there, I would be like a whirling dervish who enjoys every single beat of water and synchronizes my feelings and thoughts with it to show the wholeness of the universe.
I appreciate how the first line of the haiku focuses on the sound of water, without saying water outright. The water could be rain, or it could be the slow resurgence of a river that was dried up during a drought. This haiku may be depicting challenges due to climate change or perhaps depict a scene in a desert. If this is a drought and/or in a desert, I feel a sense of desolation and a stark sadness at the sheer lack of water. However, the verb “trickle” has a gentle and natural quality that brings me hope and eases the mind. The first line also leaves room to imagine notes from a musical instrument or perhaps we can hear notes from a bird singing. Even though this is a more abstract interpretation, I appreciate how the musical notes can synchronize with the water’s sound in my mind’s eye.
The second line focuses on the bottom of a river, which we often don’t see, either because of the river’s depth or, unfortunately, due to water pollution. In this haiku, the sand made me visualize a riverbed by the ocean. The riverbed provides a channel for the rain to flow into the sea. As a river loses its shape and merges into the sea, similarly, it seems the individual soul (Jiva) is ultimately on a quest to reunite with universal Divinity (Shiva).
If this riverbed of sand is in a tropical forest by the ocean, I appreciate how the water in this haiku merges and dissolves into the sand and the unseen depths of the Earth, into unseen roots and fungi networks. There is an infinitely complex matrix that unites a forest and life underground that is nourished and powered by water. Here are two excellent interviews on this subject published in The Sun magazine: Hidden Worlds | By Mark Leviton | Issue 545 | The Sun Magazine and Going Underground | By Derrick Jensen | Issue 386 | The Sun Magazine.
The last line of this haiku has profound depth and universal power. All of life on Earth depends on water. Through the lens of biochemistry, our human bodies are 60-75% water. A person can survive one month without food but wouldn’t survive three days without water (Biological Roles of Water: Why is water necessary for life? – Science in the News). Unfortunately, over 600+ million people on this Earth don’t have access to clean water (Clean Water – Our World in Data). Focusing on the memory of water seems to relate to how water can change forms and disappear throughout eons of time, whether that’s mist evaporating or rain soaking into the Earth. Approximately 71% of the Earth is covered in water. According to one article, “Research funding partly by NASA has confirmed the existence of liquid water on the Earth’s surface more than 4 billion years ago” (NASA – NASA Scientist Confirm Liquid Water on Early Earth). With this in mind, the memory of water reaches far into the ancient past, into the history and birth of this Earth. At the same time, the memory of water in this haiku expresses just how precious and vital it is for our future.
A powerful haiku with musical overtones that revers and honors the miracle of water.
When I read this haiku, I saw two interpretations: the wind running through a dry riverbed and creating sounds similar to the trickling of water. The second interpretation was that the poet saw the riverbed of sand and projected the music of water onto the scene. This is quite interesting because it illustrates that through our memories, what we perceive is often filtered by our past. It brings a sense of sadness that the only music we hear from the riverbed is from our minds. But on the other hand, it can be positive because it means we can hear beauty through memory even when nature is desolate.
In looking at the pacing of the haiku, we have the standard English-language haiku format of a short first line, a longer second line, and a short last line. This pacing approximately matches the traditional rhythm of Japanese haiku.
The kigo or seasonal reference for this haiku is probably summer due to the dryness of the river. However, the poet resides in India, which has six seasons. It may be in summer (Grishma Ritu), but I am not so knowledgeable about India’s seasons. This haiku might be telling us that even in harsh conditions, our memories can sustain us.
The kire or cut in the haiku happens in the second line with a grammatical shift made in the third line. The poet employed an ellipsis as an approximation of kireji or “cutting word.” The ellipsis seems to show the music being played in the poet’s mind or through the wind. It also symbolizes the continuation of the water’s music being heard despite the dry riverbed.
Since this haiku is about music, it can be expected that the poet has weaved sonic elements into it. The Os, Ts, and Ds stand out the most to me. This creates an interplay of soft and hard sounds, and perhaps this lends to the feeling of the poem being both melancholy and optimistic. When I read the haiku aloud, I hear the softness of the water’s trickle.
Overall, this haiku is a fine example of layered moods and imagery, with musicality in its content and its reading.
Since Kala Ramesh is also a Hindustani classical singer, instead of artwork, here is a video of Hindustani classical music in Raag Puriya Dhanashree sung by Begum Parveen Sultana. I believe it encapsulates the mood of her haiku: