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Haiku Classic: Oct. 6, 2019

a leaf falling

    to the pond surface

    turning darker


    W. F. Owen (1948-). From "Tundra" (2001) Issue 2. edited by Michael Dylan Welch.

    More times than not, ambiguity will destroy a haiku. However, in the above poem the ambiguity causes it to resonate. On the first reading the grammar causes one to unconsciously add a comma to the end of the second line, and to imagine that it is the leaf that turns darker upon contact with the water surface -- as it becomes wet. However, on a second reading I added a comma after "pond" and suddenly it was just a "surface" that was turning darker -- perhaps that of the leaf, perhaps that of the pond. By my third reading I had removed any comma entirely, just as the poet has done on purpose, and then both the leaf and the surface of the pond itself turned darker. It was then that the bright red (or yellow) of the leaf manifested before my eyes, since the leaf must indeed have been brightly colored for the surface of the pond to become dark when the leaf landed upon it. Just by leaving out a comma and adding ambiguity that allows both versions to co-exist -- rather than ambiguity that would leave the reader wondering which version the poet meant to convey -- this haiku became a classic.

    Selected and commented on by Dhugal J. Lindsay

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