Choice Haiku ~ John Daleiden




"Momento Mori"


Forty-six haijin from thirteen countries contributed two hundred and sixteen haiku to the September / October 2011 "cemetery" Haiku Thread. “Cemetery” is a term from Greek, κοιμητήριον meaning sleeping place. In the Western world cemeteries are the places where dead bodies and cremated remains are buried—it is a place where final ceremonies of death are observed and it is a place where survivors come to mourn, grieve, commemorate, and remember their loved ones.

One group of commendable haiku submitted to this thread celebrate a familiar religious observance:

all souls' day—
 white rose posies
 decorate the graves
 # 46. Sandra Martyres, IN

repose of souls—
 this night with a candle
 visiting cemeteries
 # 199. Malvina Mileta, CR

 from the cemetery chapel
 fragrance of wax
 # 79. Marija Pogorilić, CR

 Día de los Muertos
 flowers and sweets
 # 189. John Daleiden, US

All Souls' Day—
 saddest graves
 those without candles

 # 205. Małgorzata Miksiewicz, PL 

The only certainty for humans is that life is not forever—life is mutable, at times capricious and at best unpredictable. Human bodies age—they grow old and infirm, and eventually we all succumb to the final resting place—a cemetery.  …and so…it is fitting that the final resting place be surrounded with living evidence of the continuous life cycle—birth, change, aging, and finally, inevitable death. One of the many ironies of life is that once we have lived, we are buried in a place that exhibits a lively cross section of changing life in all seasons. These commendable haiku represent this irony:

old cemetery—
 among demolished crosses
 violets bloom
 # 194. Maria Tirenescu, RO

Titmouse singing
 into a blossomed plum—
 near the cemetery
 # 202. Maria Tirenescu, RO

church graveyard
 a cloud of crows hover
 over stone angels
 # 89. Chen-ou Liu, CA

 from ants to birds
 life goes on
 # 207. Małgorzata Miksiewicz, PL

in the graveyard
 birds are clamorous
 graves are silent
 # 10. Radhey Shiam, IN

the wind howls
 willow leaves cover
 two new graves
 # 05. Karen O'Leary, US

morning cold
 on the churchyard fence
 three starlings
 # 191. Angie Werren, US

seaside church—
in between the graves
wild oats

# 161. Bouwe Brouwer, NL 

wind picking up
 the cemetery
 alive with leaves
 # 27. Michele L. Harvey, US

wintry day
 baby’s tombstone
 etched in white
 # 88. Bernard Gieske, US

the tombstone
 even on it ravages
 of time
 # 119. Vera Primorac, CR

The tenants of a cemetery are visited by grieving survivors. This commendable group of haiku portray various stages of survivor grief:

I sit alone
 at her sunlit grave site
 two white butterflies
 # 102. Chen-ou Liu, CA

a river stone
 still warm from my pocket
 on their grave
 # 75. Cara Holman, US

at sister's funeral...
 even the doves refold
 their wings in prayer
 # 188. Kathy Nguyen, US

wild lilacs...
 he sits by her grave
 until the colors blur
 # 213. Tzetzka Ilieva, BG

I leave a treat
on Grampa's grave

175. S.E. Buffington, US

a lanky dog
 by his master's grave:
 the long wait
 # 101. Keith A. Simmonds, TT

 peaceful rendezvous
 with my sleepy father
 # 93. Munia Khan, BD

on our second date
 I meet your best friend
 # 177. S.E. Buffington

with her finger
 she traces his engraved name—
 waiting for sunset
 # 216. John Daleiden, US

seeing . . . not seeing . . .
my sister's name
carved in stone

# 35. Marg Beverland, NZ

last wish—
 on my gravestone
 gendai haiku
 # 30. Stella Pierides, DE

The commendable haiku above portray the "cemetery" Haiku Thread with skill.  They are well constructed haiku and exemplify the following techniques:

  • employs fragment and phrase construction (See Jane Reichold)

  • utilize a written or implied kirejithrough punctuation and / or other means

  • the occasional use of the 2nd line as a pivot

  • contain 5 7 5 syllables or less arranged on three consecutive lines

  • use juxtaposition to express additional implied themes

  • some haiku use a kigo

  • skillfully represent the theme "cemetery" Haiku Thread

In closing this commentary on "cemetery" Haiku I have selected the following haiku as my first choice:

“Carpe Diem”
on his gravestone
winter light

# 87. Chen-ou Liu, CA

The brevity of this 4 4 3 constructed haiku is a fitting format for the sentiments expressed in the opening line "Carpe Diem"seize the day.  Indeed, life is fleeting and those who terry will soon be left behind to perishfor life is temporary, limited to a short span compared to the environment in which it is lived, both here on earth and in the wider reaches of the ever expanding universe, in the galaxies beyond which we have only started to explore. The expression, "carpe diem", seize the day, was originally expressed by Horace in the Odes 1.11.

The Odes (Latin Carmina) are a collection in four books of Latin lyric poems by Horace. The Horatian ode format and style has been emulated since by other poets. Books 1 to 3 were published in 23 BC. According to the journal Quadrant, they were "unparalleled by any collection of lyric poetry produced before or after in Latin literature.   ...The Odes have been considered traditionally by English-speaking scholars as purely literary works. Recent evidence by a Horatian scholar suggests they were intended as performance art, a Latin re-interpretation of Greek lyric song.

I.11, Tu ne quaesieris, is a short rebuke to a woman worrying about the future; it closes with the famous line carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero (pluck the day, trusting tomorrow as little as possible).

Chen-ou Liu has effectively made a literary connection to the ancient worlda connection echoed and re-echoed in various literary forms across the ages. This echo encourages humans to enjoy life before it is too late:  "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May from To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.  It resounds as an invocation on transience and a meditation on death.  It brings to mind the film / literary character John Keating portrayed by Robin Williams in the film Dead Poets Society (1989) who says, "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." The classical phrase has risen to the stature of an epithetcarpe diem—and it immediately evokes many literary references. For example, think of Steve Martin who also employs the phrase  in the 1987 film Roxanne (a modern retelling of the 1897 verse play Cyrano de Bergerac, written by French author Edmond Rostand).  "Carpe diem" has become a modern day epithet.

In Chen-ou Liu's haiku, the middle line"on his gravestone" acts as a pivot; it effectively connects the third line--"winter light" to the first line.  The seasonal shortness of winter days emphasizes the need to take charge of lifeseize the dayfor life is short compared to the ages and ages of history available for us to read.

Although the latin poets did not not directly compose haiku, I am unable to resist the temptation to reconstruct this closing verse in their language as a Found Poem:

carpe diem
gaudeamus igitur
momento mori

*seize the day / let us rejoice /  remember that you are mortal

Long ago, I silently, and sometimes verbally, questioned why I was expected / required to read the ancients in their own largely dead languages...and now I know...

A hearty thank you to those forty-six haijin from thirteen countries who contributed two hundred and sixteen haiku to the September / October 2011 "cemetery" Haiku Thread.









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