black swan
water drops
jewel the neck

Owen Bullock


It is with some ambivalence that I undertake haiku commentaries as haiku ought to unfold in the reader’s mind in their own way. This is all the more so for a haiku such as this that alludes to depths with such brevity and simplicity. Robert Spiess, in his Speculations wrote, “Another reason for the brevity of haiku is that the more words the more distance, the more silence the more proximity” (1). The image precedes language and if well-chosen says much more than words can do, and what is left unsaid is generally best left that way. So I venture a few words not as any kind of contribution to the haiku but rather as a brief account of my own response to this gorgeous picture, that indeed speaks beautifully for itself.

The poet well appreciates the aesthetic value of contrast. Just as the light of stars for example are made visible by darkness (and in fact the darker the night the more they sparkle) so too the rainbow colours of refraction are enhanced by darker backgrounds. Jewellers will often display diamonds on black velvet knowing that such contrast highlights their sparkle and colour. I am inclined to see diamonds jewelling the neck of this swan, though I ought not presume this for other readers who might imagine this scene at night and the droplets to be moonstones or pearls. The fiery colours of black opal also come to mind.

By virtue of our tendency to anthropocentrism, the swan is sometimes given a certain regal bearing, has often been featured in art, fairytales and mythology and has been immortalised in the night sky in the constellation of Cygnus. All of this adds to the somewhat magical quality of this swan adorned in jewels. However, we are reminded that the treasure, the real treasure here, is not actually a diamond necklace but rather droplets of water which are every bit as effective in reflecting the beauties of light, a treasure freely given in nature. This in turn leads me to wonder ~ what after all is the deeper appeal of light to the human psyche and indeed the psyches of many birds, fish and insects that use colour and iridescence to impress one another. What is the deeper symbolic value of it all, why are people so attracted to, and placed such value in, shiny things? What is it that inclines us to be so taken by lights in the darkness?

It is sometimes suggested that ‘lifefullness’ rather than beauty is the proper object of haiku. However, it can be argued that in-so-far as Beauty is an objective feature of nature (I would suggest it is) then Beauty also deserves acknowledgement as a haiku principle of deep value.

(1). cited by Angelee Deodhar Simply Haiku, 3:1, Spring 2005

First published: 17th HAI Haiku Contest, 2015 – 1st Prize

Subsequently published in River’s Edge by Owen Bullock, Recent Work Press, 2016

Selection & comments by Simon Hanson