full moon
fishless, the net
weighs light

Jan Napier

blue-sky

This is a beautifully balanced haiku, pared down to seven words and eight syllables. Enough has been stated to paint the picture but also allow the reader to ponder the possibilities.

Under a full moon, the net is hauled in fishless. I am assuming that the net is in a boat, though that might not be the case for another reader. Fish are able to see the net in the water on a night such as this, even the finest of nets.

On a full moon the catch decreases. Is the net in the process of being hauled, or is it already in the boat? Do we have a tangle of netting in moonlight? The net, without fish would be easier to pull in, so it would weigh less. If we add more detail to the scene we are given, we might imagine the fisherman hauling his net into a dinghy in an estuary among the mangroves. However, there are so many more scenarios left to the reader’s imagination.

full moon, the eye of the night, is the fragment in this haiku. It casts its light over the water and in particular on the fishless net. There is the hint of loneliness (sabi) in this small scene under a vast sky. There is a fisherman (though not stated), perhaps alone. There is emptiness, solitude and silence (no flapping fish). The poem also has a quality of distance, as if we are looking down on it.

Cohesiveness is achieved by the interconnecting images of a full moon and the light, the net and the absence of fish, the harmony of sounds, such as the two f’s in “full” and “fishless”, the l’s in “less“ and “light”. In the second line, the net represents the not mentioned fisherman who is hauling or has hauled in his net, empty of fish.

Then we come to the last line, ‘weighs light’. This line has a complexity that gives it depth and is to me the most mysterious (yugen). On reading the haiku again we might wonder if the net is weighing the light of the moon or is it just that the net is empty and not weighed down with fish? Light, the last word, then brings us back to the moon. The ambiguity in the last line keeps me coming back to this evocative haiku.

First published: Windfall, Issue 2, 2014

Selection and commentary by Lorraine Haig