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haiku commentary ~ ai li

in a room
with no windows
drawing stars

          — ai li, still two one (1998)

There are two things that immediately strike me about ai li’s haiku:

  1. a strong sense of containment, perhaps even imprisonment, from the image of a room with no windows.
  2. the concrete images at the end of each line – room, windows, stars – which anchor me to the real world.

The idea of containment/imprisonment is a subjective response; the room could as easily be a cellar where the poet/narrator has chosen to be. But surely there’s a sense of longing, or aware*, in the third line, a longing for the exterior world, the night sky, for beauty and peace and freedom, that reinforces this idea for me. 

But if this is about imprisonment why don’t I feel any distress or sense of restriction? Perhaps because of those three concrete words at the end of each line. Poets place (or should place) words at the ends of lines for deliberate and conscious reasons. And these do feel consciously placed. Room. Window. Stars. 

I am in a room. 
I look out of a window. 
I see stars. 

The poet, or narrator, in this poem has allowed me to experience the night sky regardless of the limitations of their personal situation. Can there be greater generosity than this? To offer the gift of beauty from a place where beauty has been denied? 

*Japanese, translating roughly as pathos, poignancy, deep feeling, sensitivity, or awareness.

First published on The Haiku Foundation website, 2nd February 2018.

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