Sunrise

 

(Autumn)

Sunrise;
My very long shadow
Walking in front.

Sometimes the simplest things seem meaningful, like the lengthened shadow we see stretching ahead from our feet when walking westward on a morning in the beginning of autumn.

As you know, in hokku we generally avoid the use of  “I,” “me,” and “my.”  The reason for this is that hokku takes the focus away from the ego.  Unlike much modern verse, it is not all about the “I” and its likes, dislikes, and whims.  But there is also an additional reason.  If hokku become too personal  — too particular — that is, too particularly focused on one person’s life — then it is difficult for others to relate to such a verse.  But if the hokku event is a more general human experience, then many people can relate to it — can have the sensory experience presented in the verse.

That is why this verse — even though it uses the word “my” — is still not an “ego problem.”  It is a verse people in general can relate to.  It is an ordinary experience, but that a hokku can be made of it just reminds us that hokku are often about things we already know, but don’t know that we know.  So the “my very long shadow” easily becomes the shadow of whoever reads the verse.  That means it is possible to use “I,” “me,” or “my” in hokku without an undue focus on the self.  Even though we generally avoid them, if we understand the reasons behind that avoidance, we are free to use them when appropriate.

 

David

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GERANIUMS AND POVERTY

Today’s poem is by Wilfred Wilson Gibson (1878-1962), one of the “Georgian” poets — so

called after the reign of King George V of England, who took the throne in 1910.  Five volumes — anthologies — of the Georgian poets were published from 1912-1922, and this poem from Gibson’s book Fires (1912) was included in Georgian Poetry: 1911-12.  It does not require a great deal of explanation, but is interesting for its combination of sensory impressions and narrative.  Gibson was criticized for his choice of lowly subjects — “common” poor and working class people — though, as Geraldine P. Dilla wrote in the Sewanee Review (January, 1922), “…Mr. Gibson portrays the wrongs of society without proposing remedies.

GERANIUMS

Stuck in a bottle on the window-sill,
In the cold gaslight burning gaily red
Against the luminous blue of London night,
These flowers are mine: while somewhere out of sight
In some black-throated alley’s stench and heat,
Oblivious of the racket of the street,
A poor old weary woman lies in bed.

Broken with lust and drink, blear-eyed and ill,
Her battered bonnet nodding on her head,
From a dark arch she clutched my sleeve and said:
‘I’ve sold no bunch to-day, nor touched a bite …
Son, buy six-pennorth; and ‘t will mean a bed.’

So blazing gaily red
Against the luminous deeps
Of starless London night,
They burn for my delight:
While somewhere, snug in bed,
A worn old woman sleeps.

And yet to-morrow will these blooms be dead
With all their lively beauty; and to-morrow
May end the light lusts and the heavy sorrow
Of that old body with the nodding head.
The last oath muttered, the last pint drained deep,
She’ll sink, as Cleopatra sank, to sleep;
Nor need to barter blossoms for a bed.

The poet, while walking in London, was accosted by a bleary-eyed, sick looking, alcoholic old woman in a battered bonnet, who stepped out from the shadow of an arch and clutched his sleeve, desperate to sell him the bunch of geraniums she held out imploringly.  She tells him

“I’ve sold no bunch to-day, nor touched a bite …
Son, buy six-pennorth; and ‘t will mean a bed.”

She had not eaten that day because she had no money to buy food.  And if he were to buy six pennies worth, she would be able to pay for a bed, in some cheap flophouse, on which to rest that night.

So the poet buys the geraniums, places them in his window, and gazes at the blazing red flowers set against the darkness of the London night.  He is delighted by their color, but cannot separate the image from that of the poor old woman who sold them.  As he looks at them, he imagines how

In some black-throated alley’s stench and heat,
Oblivious of the racket of the street,
A poor old weary woman lies in bed.

It is the bed she bought for the night with the money he gave for the geraniums.

He thinks that beautiful and brilliant as the flowers are in the glare of the gaslight of his room, they will be dead the next day.  And again he sees in his mind the old woman, with her worn out, alcohol-damaged body, and thinks

“...to-morrow
May end the light lusts and the heavy sorrow
Of that old body with the nodding head.

He imagines her,

“The last oath muttered, the last pint drained deep,
She’ll sink, as Cleopatra sank, to sleep;
Nor need to barter blossoms for a bed.”

Having muttered her last colorful swear-words, having drunk her last pint of beer, he sees her sinking into the sleep of death, like Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt died when she held a poisonous asp to her breast.  It is an interesting and incongruous simile.  And with that passing, the old woman will no longer have need to sell flowers to buy a temporary bed.

It would have been easy for this poem to cross the thin line into maudlin and saccharine sentiment, but it is saved by the objective manner of presentation.

 

David