Hassane Zemmouri’s butterfly hunt

butterfly hunt…
the child comes back
with a wounded knee

Hassane Zemmouri (Algeria)
(published previously in Kontinuum, Issue 3, July 2022)


I feel that this haiku is possibly written from a memory of the poet’s childhood, as butterfly hunting was much more common in earlier times. It could also be a parent or grandparent teaching the child how to hunt butterflies in this modern day. In any case, this haiku displays innocence and the power of nature. The twist at the end can make the reader believe that the butterfly hit the child on the knee, which is at once humorous and a reminder of nature’s sway over us. Most likely, the child tripped and/or fell while running after a beautiful specimen and scraped their knee. In the child’s attempt to disturb another being, a lesson is learned about how powerless we are in the face of the natural world: even an entity as minuscule as a butterfly can escape our ingenious ways.

I could not help, as an American, thinking about the Wounded Knee Massacre (better known as The Battle of Wounded Knee). Though the poet is from Algeria, I felt the haiku has resonance with this event in that it was an attack on innocence. As History.com states:

“On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it’s unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which an estimated 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men. The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle—the Army troops involved were later rewarded with Medals of Honor—but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it’s unlikely that Big Foot’s band would have intentionally started a fight. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876.”

This haiku can also be a general symbol of the consequences of attacking guiltless parties out of ignorance, which can be seen throughout history in almost all regions of the world. 

So, this haiku, from my perspective, has a mix of humor, tragedy, and history. Through its simple language and ending twist, it implies a poignant message. 

Nicholas Klacsanzky

Is it a hunt for a butterfly or something more subtle, invisible, and deep? This was the first thought that came into my mind when I read this haiku. A butterfly hunt is not as easy as it looks, especially when a person is not fully focused. I see it as if a child wants to follow their dreams or is curious about the trail of a butterfly, which is usually mystical or difficult to trace. It shows how a curious mind looks deep into certain realities of life that cannot be easily grasped or comprehended. More specifically, this moment could be about how a child goes on an expedition that is beyond what is unseen but still exists—maybe a pursuit of fantasies or dreams tickled by their imagination. The ending is more dramatic in this case, especially when one strives to go beyond certain realities, or struggles with what path to take to kill a certain curiosity or to understand the subtleties of life.

On the other hand, I see this as a retrospection where a person regresses to their childhood, which was more memorable or contains deep memories. Butterflies may symbolize life, dreams, or happiness here and the child struggled hard to achieve joy or goals from the beginning. It also gives us a lesson about how we cannot achieve anything without struggle, with a physical one manifesting as a wounded knee in this poem. Overall, this haiku illustrates the crux of life: there is no shortcut to achieving something of significance.

Hifsa Ashraf

I feel this haiku speaks of consequences, the limits of human thought patterns/mental programming, and the gentle (and bold) power of Mother Earth.

On first read, the word “hunt” seems to imply wanting to conquer and capture the butterfly. The reasons are unclear, but I feel the child likely has a mix of curiosity and the desire to dominate, perhaps with the intent to put the butterfly in the box of scientific analysis. We don’t know how old the child is in this haiku, which creates a range of interpretations and meanings, as Nick and Hifsa have expressed.

The butterfly could be a summer or spring kigo. Either way, in the end, I feel the butterfly in this haiku got away. 

Butterflies play a vital role in pollination and complex ecosystems. As is stated on the Portland State University website:

“[Butterflies] are also extremely important ecologically. Butterflies pollinate flowering plants and serve as food for other organisms, thus forming an important link in the food chain. Populations have declined in recent decades, owing to increased pesticide use (especially herbicides); loss of fencerows; urbanization and other destruction of habitat; and loss of caterpillar host and nectar plants. Managing your garden for butterflies can help conserve butterfly populations as well as greatly enhance a traditional garden.”

Source: https://extension.psu.edu/gardening-for-butterflies

In terms of sound, the soft and long “o” sounds in the haiku carry gentleness, while, in contrast, the hard “t” and “k” sounds have a bold and immediate emphasis.

In the end, while science has its place, I feel if we only see through its limitations we can become blind to the spiritual power and mystery of Mother Earth. This haiku reminds me that curiosity has its limits and dangers as well. I feel a balance is needed between Science and Spirit, between wonder and logic—otherwise, as a species, if we lack sensitivity and reverence, we may take the consequences. 

An interesting haiku with layers of depth, significance, and meaning.

Jacob D. Salzer

“The butterfly hunt” by Berthe Morisot  (1841–1895)

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