no man’s land
between two graves
thin strip of grass
— Vladislav Hristov (Bulgaria)
Scarlet Dragonfly, May 20, 2022
The first line is impactful because “no man’s land” is a term used during trench warfare (as the land between opposing trenches during a war). Such a desolate scene explains why this saying exists because no human survives in that stretch of land. However, in another sense, I think “no man’s land” could also mean a severe disconnect between humans and the Earth (i.e. it could mean two humans in this haiku didn’t feel connected with the land, but now their remains are buried in Mother Earth). Reclaiming land that was once seemingly devoid of life and labeled “no man’s land” shows the regenerative power of Mother Earth. Reincarnation also comes to mind as a possibility in the third line.
An impactful haiku that depicts the space between life & death, and between war & Nature.
The haiku starts with a strong statement of ‘no man’s land’, indicating the miseries of war. It shows how power and conflict end in nothing but annihilation. This also reminds us how irrelevant life and worldly boundaries are after the death of people in war. I also see it as a defeat where one may claim a piece of land after winning a war but that land is also used to bury victims.
‘Between two graves’ may symbolize two countries or boundaries of two countries that are doomed in a war, or destroyed enough to look like graves. I see it as the graves of unknowns who may be foes or feud but now are buried on the same land, side by side, facing the consequences of hate simultaneously.
I like the third line of this haiku which projects exactly the harsh realities and miseries that countries face due to disastrous conflicts. It shows despair, conflict, and cynicism that does not end even after a war. A ‘thin strip of grass’ may look like a sword, tongue, or the fragility of life after conflict which leads to more hatred and fear. It shows how one war leads to another where those in power do not think about martyrs or victims.
It’s a vicious cycle of hostility that goes on from one generation to another, from one country to another, and it ends nowhere but the massive destruction and death of countless precious lives.
One of the potent features of this haiku is its pivot in the second line. “between two graves” can lend to both the first and third lines. It can be read as “no man’s land between two graves/thin strip of grass” or “no man’s land/between two graves thin strip of grass.”
There is no mention or implication of a kigo (seasonal reference). Yet, kigoless haiku have been written for hundreds of years. These haiku are called muki.
In terms of toriawase, or how things are combined, we have the solemnity of the graves and the thin strip of grass. The grass, though occupying a small area, becomes enlarged in our minds. Its importance becomes significant and represents sadness and cynicism.
There is no punctuation, but this seems reasonable in order for the pivot line to work. In English-language haiku, often punctuation is omitted in favor of the line break and a pivot line.
The pacing is the standard of English-language haiku, which is a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. This format approximates the rhythm of Japanese haiku.
Looking at the sound, the letter “a” is the most prominent. These long syllables bring gravity to the haiku. The “o”s in the poem also elongate the syllables.
Lastly, the language is simple and the composition is concise while conveying a poignant scene. Hallmarks of fine haiku.
This haiku describes something we might have seen many times but have not given its due importance. The poem also displays a relationship between the natural world and humanity, no matter how slight. Even a small connection can feel big in the eyes of the perceiver.
Painting by Giles Watson. “Wayland’s Smithy.”