old church wall
climbing to heaven
— Agnieszka Filipek (Ireland)
(previously published in The Remembered Arts Journal)
In the first line, we get an image that communicates limitations and history. The word “old” in relation to the church wall is relative, given the structure stands on Mother Earth, who is much older. But of course, the old church also carries many years and memories within its walls.
The focus on the church wall itself could be an image of old church ruins, though not necessarily. This interpretation could bring a sense of loss for people who once identified with the old church as part of their identity. Now all that remains could be fragments of its walls.
In the second and third lines, I feel a spiritual liberation, outside the confined physical and psychological walls of the church. I am reminded that Mother Earth Herself is the original cathedral, in which wisdom is not found in words, but in spiritual energies and silences. I am also reminded that stone structures will not stand the test of time, but Mother Earth has and prevails.
This is an important haiku that offers a portal into the limitations of certain organized religions and their architecture, juxtaposed with the ancient and mysterious power & silences of Mother Earth and the afterlife. A powerful haiku.
What drew me to this haiku was the image of the maidenhair fern climbing to “heaven.” There are a few things to unpack here. The lovely shape of maidenhair fern leaves is a sight of beauty, charm, and sweetness. This in contrast with the old church wall makes for a striking image. Also, maidenhair ferns have religious and/or spiritual significance, as noted by the website The Joy of Plants:
“The scientific name Adiantum derives from the Greek and means roughly ‘does not get wet’. When it rains the stems droop and the water rapidly slides off the leaves, so that the plant itself does not appear to become wet. In the symbolism of plants the maidenhair fern therefore represents purity and innocence, meanings that also recur in the ancient legend that said that someone is still a virgin if they can hold a branch of maidenhair fern without the leaves moving.”
The mention of a virgin should direct you to the Virgin Mary, with various interpretations. But, it seems what is of more importance is that the fern is a symbol of purity and innocence in a place such as an old church. It gives me a thought of paganism versus organized religion and how the elemental world may once again reclaim power over our lives in the current international decline of religious fervor. This haiku also makes me contemplate how the natural world reclaims human-made structures with grace and quiet.
The word “heaven” can relate to a religious heaven or the physical heavens or cosmos. There could also be a painting of heaven in the old church that the fern is climbing towards.
In terms of kigo, or a seasonal reference, the maidenhair fern is found in Ireland from June to September. So, maybe it is a summer-to-early-autumn kigo. This haiku does not have punctuation or any other approximation to kireji (cutting word), but there is a clear grammatical break after the first line. Looking at the pacing, the lines do not follow the usual English-language haiku lengths of a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. However, I find making the last line longer as if the climb to heaven is arduous is suiting. Finally, the soft sounds of the letters “o” and “l” provide sensitivity to the reading.
This is a haiku with judicious use of imagery and symbolism. It drives us to contemplate religion, the natural world, and original innocence.
This is one of the best examples of metaphoric haiku where the opening line ‘old church wall’ makes it significant as it sets the direction. I wonder whether it is about a physical wall or used as an analogy where something protects or sets limits for certain beliefs. I take it as a traditional practice of religion or something/someone that holds their beliefs firm no matter how difficult the path is.
The maidenhair fern is quite delicate, though it can survive in a moderate environment. I see it as how balanced thoughts and beliefs help someone to achieve eternal blessings that may be referred to as ‘heaven’ in this case. The simple message behind this haiku may seem religious but it represents something universal: a way to live life by following the moderate path. This path can be rewarding here as well in the hereafter and brings happiness and satisfaction which one seeks as the most significant purpose of life.
Painting by Joni Murphy
One thought on “Agnieszka Filipek’s maidenhair fern”
This haiku is beautiful. The image if the fern climbing the old church wall to me is a metaphor for the trip we all hope we can take.
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