Christina Sng’s Hospital

pale against
the hospital pillow
winter snow

Christina Sng (Singapore)

There are times when we are down due to an illness or disease, where everything around us looks dysfunctional and depressing. We try to relate to our feelings with our surroundings, especially the weather. We strive to console ourselves by finding out our shortcomings in the outer world.

This haiku depicts exactly that situation, where the illness of a person can be connected to winter snow as both bringing depressing thoughts and feelings.

The word ‘pale’ indicates dullness and the fragile condition of a person who is seriously ill and depressed due to his or her illness. This colour also indicates autumn, where leaves change their colours and fall down—ultimately looking pale. Here, paleness also suggests a departure or farewell due to a serious illness. A person in this state might feel as if he or she is close to death. So, the feelings of departure itself bring a lot of pain, melancholy, and depression.

Metaphorically, paleness also depicts negative emotions, where a person feels lonely and stressed out, which further suggests the poor mental health of a person.

The hospital pillow could be a metaphor for the cause of depressing and broken thoughts. Paleness against the pillow is the expression of those thoughts that a person has during a time of illness.

Winter snow, especially when someone projects his or her feelings on it, becomes a source of annihilation, a passive mindset, or negativity. It brings life to an end by slowing down the system of both the inner and outer worlds. It gives deep silence and melancholy where a person feels more close to his or her self and cannot avoid all the memories and traumatic events that have happened in his or her life. It brings coldness that turns down positive energies, especially will power.

Overall, it’s all about the deterioration of life’s processes, whether it’s nature or our body.

Hifsa Ashraf  (Pakistan)

The image in this haiku is intriguing. We are not told if the pillow is outside and snow is falling on it, or that the reflection of snow from a window or elsewhere is shown on the pillow. Or, the poet is watching snow tumble down outside from within a hospital room. Leaving that kind of space in haiku is important. In fact, it’s an unspoken rule to try to leave out something when composing haiku.

As Hifsa pointed out, “pale” has many connotations. In a way, it personifies the snow and tricks us into thinking that maybe even the snow is sick. It also gives a sense that the snow is partaking in the experience of the poet or narrator.

There is an idea of purity being implied here as well. Snow is usually bright white, especially winter snow. The haiku could be conveying that the hospital pillow, though artificial, shines in its whiteness more than the snow. This provides the feeling of coldness and of perhaps death. The imagery also suggests that we have made a world where human-made things are now more “pure looking” than nature itself.

In terms of sound, the two “p”s pop out and so do the “l”s and “o”s. Christina’s work is commonly extraordinarily musical. The “p” sounds perhaps emphasize the stark nature of the scene, whereas the “o” sounds slow down the pace and mirror the solemn tone of the poem. The “l”s just make the haiku sound better, in my eyes.

For the format, we have the usual short line/long line/short line form. That tried and true pacing works great for the content.

A haiku with notions of purity, artificiality versus nature, and life and death intermixed. Another strong haiku from a contemporary master of the form.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Did you enjoy this poem and commentary? Please leave us a comment if you did.


Photograph by © David Hutchison

Christina Sng’s Summer Comfort

summer comfort
the arthritic cat
basks in the sunlight

Honourable Mention, Neo-classical Haiku, World Haiku Review (June 2016, World)

© Christina Sng (Singapore)

This haiku, to my mind, is double-sided. It may seem like it is a simply poem about an arthritic cat enjoying a moment away from pain, but therein lies the other side. Even as the cat is enjoying its moment of peace, its pain and existence of suffering will come back momentarily or the cat is already feeling pain, but only has a peek at peace. That serenity seems bittersweet: intermixed with the joy is the mooring of pain that the cat feels continuously.

This applies to human beings as well, and it is typical in haiku to show compassion to animals and nature in general so we can reflect on ourselves. Through our compassion for the cat, we may realize that people around us feel the same, living moment by moment in pain with glimpses of peace.

The first two lines make for a strong juxtaposition. “Comfort” and “arthritic” are not two words we usually associate together. But that is what haiku does: brings together dissonant parts of life and makes us see the range that life brings, in all its contradictions. But in this haiku, and many others, the end result is the heart: through the contradiction, the melancholy, we feel compassion and care for the cat–and hopefully in turn, we care for all living beings and for ourselves.

The last line gives the impression that the cat is relaxing for a while with “basks.” But who is to know if the cat is feeling pain, if it is trying escape from pain, or in fact the cat has passed away and is simply laying in the sunlight now–a kind of heavenly light, but in a direct sense.

This haiku is made up of hints, and leads the reader to many avenues of the mind. However, this haiku has a celebratory mood, though tinged with a sense of sadness. The use of “the” in the last line gives the light more prominence and it would not be far-fetched that the cat has passed away and or the cat is in its final moments. It is not so common in haiku to have two “the” as we like to give focus to one thing. But here the cat and the sunlight has equal importance, which hints that the cat and the sunlight are a part of a larger process that we need to pay attention to.

Notice how each line ends with a definitive “t.” The strength of the sound of the “t” should not be underestimated. It is the power behind words such as “might,” “smite,” and “sight.” It is a sharp sounding letter appropriate for a sharp contrast and look into existence. Also, “cat” and “comfort,” besides the alliteration, brings in a sense of keenness.

In haiku, the last line is usually short. However, in light of the pain and possible death, the poet judiciously uses a longer line to show importance and present a tribute.

As a former cat owner, I know how hard it is to see a beloved pet suffer and die. I believe this haiku brought out the appropriate emotion without being overt, using evocative imagery instead.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)