a fly buzzing
in the room where he died —
did he hear it?
With apologies, of course, to Emily Dickinson.
The Japanese aren’t shy about including literary references in their haiku; there is a long tradition in Japan of poets carrying on a poetic dialogue with their predecessors, echoing each other’s lines, paying tribute to them or making fun of them, enlarging on them or playing with them. I think it’s much more difficult for Westerners to feel comfortable doing this. We want to be original, we want to come up with our own words. We want to be individuals.
I’ve been trying lately to take poems (not other haiku) that are important to me and use them as source material for haiku — not “found haiku” as I’ve done sometimes in the past, but my own haiku, building on or responding to the original poem. Mostly I haven’t been very successful, maybe because although I believe in this endeavor in theory, I am enough of a Westerner that it makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like I’m cheating. I feel like I might be trivializing the source material or creating trivial haiku.
I’m still not sure what I think about this one but I like it better than any of my other efforts. You can definitely read and appreciate it without any knowledge of Emily or her fly, but if you do have that knowledge, I think your understanding of it deepens.
And just as an aside, I am pretty sure that the last stanza of Dickinson’s poem might be the best description of what it’s like to die written by someone who hadn’t actually done so yet (but I hope I won’t have any occasion to find out if I’m right anytime soon):
With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –
– Emily Dickinson
(Oh — and sorry if this post was a little bit of a downer for you. I am the kind of person who often gets very cheerful when I read sad poems or books or see sad movies, especially when they are amazing works of art. But I know not everyone feels the same way. Maybe you would feel better if I told you about the parody of Emily’s poem that my eleventh-grade English class (American Literature, natch) wrote to entertain one of our classmates who was home ill for a while. It began:
I heard a fly buzz – when I had mono –
Yeah — that was a great class. Thanks, Ms. Bryan, if you’re out there anywhere.)
(in memoriam bradford allen reynolds 1/18/1964 – 7/1984)