the quality of moonlight
Els van Leeuwen
An intriguing haiku, open to various interpretations and likely to elicit a variety of responses in readers. The poet writes, ‘I hope it is a versatile piece for individual readers to take from it what they will . . .’ It is certainly that. The first line gives us a seasonal context (coinciding with the genesis of this haiku) as well as being highly suggestive in itself. Asking people to describe their associations with ‘summer’s end’, one is likely to receive an interesting array of answers. This line also makes for a fascinating juxtaposition with lines two and three. For me it brought to mind on first reading the gulf between holiday photographs and the lived moments these pictures were intended to capture, all tinged with a melancholy of time’s passing and of nearing the journey’s end. The poet tells me, ‘I related the diminished depiction of moonlight to a despondency about aging and desire, hence summer’s end’. While we are not privy to the private meaning attached to the metaphor in the haiku itself, it none-the-less carries a feeling tone we might recognise.
As mentioned, one of the great strengths of this haiku is its openness to interpretation and an array of suggestive associations – further in her email Els writes, ‘I will look forward to hearing anything you may have to say about how it speaks to you’. What a lovely invitation to us all.
It is not so easy to write of the moon in original ways but the poet has succeeded here. The second line – the quality of moonlight – contains much. It is not as if the qualities of moonlight are given and easily described, the qualities of moonlight are immersed in our perceptual experience and of such a subtle and gossamer fine nature they evade our best attempts at capture in word and image. However, I was inclined by the second line to recalled a few moments of my own lived experience; one on a very particular 3 am when a heavy frost across my front lawn sparkled diamond bright, words or pictures will not convey how that appeared to me, and another occasion, when a moody sea was dimly lit here and now there under a cloud scudded sky on a winter’s night off Cape Northumberland. Though photographic technology is rather impressive, the richness of these personal experiences of moonlight are beyond its scope. Vision is not adequately described as an image or series of images; it is lived experience informed by physiology, culture and an individual’s unique psychological history, by all that makes us us. No two people are likely to experience the sight of the same object in the same way. Thus this haiku led me into the labyrinths of human perception, and, oh yes; the beauties of moonlight, or I should say, how moonlight appears to us.
Selection & comments by Simon Hanson