leaning
next to the rake
the rake’s shadow

Tony Beyer

blue-sky

This is a haiku of strikingly bare simplicity, exemplifying the Japanese principles of calmness, quiet and modesty – shibumi or ‘nothing special’. It is an inspiration and reminder to those of us who sometimes say too much. It stands as a moment of direct perception; no drama, no lyricism, no leaps of imagination, no colourful adjectives, no word-play, no human complications or implicit judgments. We know little of the poet’s mind, as he is not present in the haiku; all we can gather of him is that he is appreciative of humble things, of things just as they are. We are fortunate to be able to share this moment of vivid clarity.

The structure is spare and skillful, with just eight words and ten syllables. Lines 2 and 3 are of the same syllable length, enhancing the image of the rake and its shadow in parallel, giving them equality in our attention. Anticipation and interest build from the subtle tension in the single word of line 1, through line 2, and is only resolved in the last word of line 3.

I was drawn to this haiku not only as a writer, but also as a photographer often fascinated with shadows as a visual subject. The imagery gives the reader a chance to contemplate their mysterious nature. It alerts us to the intriguing degree of independence that a shadow has from its object: a different angle, a different shape . . . interactive with its surroundings, shape-shifting over time, coming and going, in ways the object casting it does not. Because the poem is so spare, we have plenty of space to visualize its image, what it expresses to us and how we feel with it – and with the shadows in our own lives.

Haiku first published: still heading out: an anthology of Australian and New Zealand haiku, edited by Jacqui Murray and Katherine Samuelowicz, 2013

Selection and Commentary by Katherine Raine, Milton, New Zealand