winter yard –
a magpie carols
on an empty clothesline

Robyn Cairns


Selection and comments by Jan Dobb

There is something extremely appealing about magpies. (Yes, even during the swooping season when they protect their nests with such energy!) Perhaps my love of these birds was one reason to pause a little longer over this life-affirming haiku by Robyn Cairns.

The poet immediately places us right in the context, and a rather bleak one at that – a winter yard. My English mother-in-law insisted on calling her backyard ‘the garden’, for so indeed it was. A yard, she argued, is just a fenced enclosure.  For me, the word ‘yard’ has resonated that way ever since, despite its Aussie domestic usage. So here we are then, entering this haiku by way of a yard – a winter yard. I imagine the weather’s rather foggy, maybe starting to drizzle, and for certain it’s miserably cold. A time for our senses to shiver . . .

But then a magpie carols. Into this desolate scene bursts an incongruous joy, surely one of Nature’s most sublime sounds. Our chilled ears tingle with delight. Our hearts are thrilled, our spirits lifted. And how carefully the poet chooses her words. Not ‘warbles’ – but ‘carols’, a word suggesting celebration.

Moving from ears back to eyes, we observe where the sound originates. Our harbinger of joy is perched on an empty hills hoist. But the emptiness merely highlights by contrast the magpie’s transforming impact. Line three cannot revive the dismal mood of line one for the world is different now.

No longer do we bemoan winter’s gloom but open ourselves to a profound beauty. The dreariness now reveals delicate nuances of light. Damp air is fresh with fragrance. We don’t mind the cold sting on our ears, for into them a magpie is carolling!

The sandwich structure of this haiku adds to its appeal, a layer of glorious sound spread between two barren images so that its ‘flavour’ permeates the whole.

Life yet contains goodness and hope, despite the grim scenes that daily confront us. We can sing!

Jan Dobb

First published: Windfall 4, 2016

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