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haiku commentary: George Swede

wildflowers
I cannot name
most of me

George Swede[1]


The opening line, composed of a single word, slows me down with its first two long syllables. And that pace is perfect for the contemplation woven through this economical haiku.

The pivot line is structurally satisfying – it rocks me in (wildflowers/I cannot name) and out (I cannot name/most of me) of the haiku – as is the balance of 3/4/3 syllables. But these formal characteristic serve the ideas behind the haiku too.

The first two lines, taken as a couplet, describe a concrete experience that’s probably common to all of us: a lack of knowledge or names forgotten as we walk through the countryside. The haiku instantly involves me, invites me to share the moment.

The 2nd and 3rd lines present a different kind of couplet: a personal reflection that is both concrete and abstract. How many of us could recite the litany of parts that make up our own complex organism? And how many of us are convinced that we truly know and understand ourselves: the different identities we adopt, the strange imagery that comes to us in dreams, or spontaneous and surprising emotion in response to unexpected events?

Yet all of those things are offered to us in this haiku of seven words.

Haiku are such light expressions it is easy to overload them with philosophy. The movement from the natural world in line 1 to the economy of expression in lines 2 and 3 avoids that through understatement and simple declarative phrase. It manages to be both witty and thoughtful.

It is perhaps no accident that this haiku is the final one in George Swede’s collection. Rather than close down the book, it opens it up for me, encourages me to reflect on what I cannot name, what I do not know, about myself and the wider world. It sets me on a road of discovery, should I choose to take it.


[1] George Swede, Joy in Me Still, inkling press, Edmonton, AB T6G 2T5, Canada, p.79

First published in Notes from the Gean 3.4

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