Waking me from sleep
filled with sabre-tooth tigers
my cat keeps purring.

Jack de Vidas

blue-sky

This is a fine example of a seventeen syllable haiku. Good 5/7/5 haiku are not easy to write and are quite rare. Each word must be well chosen, each adding to the image, each contributing to the poem’s balance. The worst 5/7/5 verses, and these are not so rare, are those that deliberately select or omit words to make up a seventeen-syllable count. They seem more concerned with the acrobatic feat of juggling numbers than with the subtle aesthetics of haiku. This, however, is not such a poem.

Many times I have seen in the stripy ginger tom that lives with us, a little tiger stalking through the jungles of our backyard bamboo, other times a lion sunning himself on the ‘Serengeti grasslands’ of the paddock next door – glimpses here and there of eons past. We are each the embodiment of an ancestry, a past unimaginably rich, manifest in body, mind and behaviour. There is a playfulness in this haiku pairing the poet’s pet and its Pleistocene forebears. Like watching a kitten stalking imaginary prey, one looks on this haiku with amusement and a smile, yet there is also a window here into deep time, wonderful to contemplate.

The pairing of past and present, the natural link between sabre-tooth tigers and domestic cats, lends coherence to the poem. There is a cosy homeliness in the scene of waking from sleep to the cat’s purring. We peer momentarily into the poet’s mind in the dream he shares which is cleverly paired with the world outside, the purring cat. The connection between subject and object, the mind of the dreamer and his physical environment along with the link between past and present, gives a most satisfying sense of wholeness to this haiku. None of this is stated explicitly, it is just there, contained in a gorgeous image imbued with a touch of lightness and humour. Lovely.

From: Bells are Calling
A book of Haiku & Senryu
Edited by Janice M. Bostok
Published by paper wasp, 1996

Selection and commentary by Simon Hanson