I stand at Dad’s grave
in his suit
Haiku selection and comments by Lyn Reeves
I first read this haiku when it appeared in the First Australian Haiku Anthology in 1993, but it has stayed with me all that time.
The poem opens with a potent symbol – daffodils – immediately evoking spring with its associations of renewal and rebirth. The bright splash of colour is in sharp contrast to the sombre mood of a son standing at his father’s graveside. Together, these two images create a sense of empathy, surprise and enquiry. As in all effective haiku, the words resonate with a significance that goes deeper than their initial reading.
Daffodils, which Bob tells me were his father’s favourite flower, symbolise a range of meanings in different cultures. Many of these echo the emotions of this particular haiku moment. In the Japanese language of flowers (Hanakotoba) they represent ‘respect’. Awareness and inner reflection, memory, forgiveness and hope are other emotions associated with these spring flowers.
I stand at Dad’s grave. These simple words convey a great sense of loneliness. Undoubtedly there would have been a gathering of friends and family at the graveside, but the poet is aware only of his father and of himself, cut off from those present by his grief. We get the impression that there was a fond relationship between father and son, and that perhaps the son has travelled a long way to be by his father’s side. The fact that the son is wearing his father’s suit suggests he doesn’t have a suit of his own. This makes me wonder if the son has taken a path very different from his father’s. And yet, the poet is now in his suit – taking his place, taking on some of his father’s qualities as the baton is passed from one generation to the next.
In three brief lines, the poet has given us a richly layered and thought-provoking moment, arousing an awareness of our own mortality, the fragility of life and the hope of renewal, as promised by the symbol of daffodils.
First published: First Australian Haiku Anthology 1993