Misreading Haiku

Published in Notes from the Gean 3:4, March 2012, page 102. Originally written in early March of 2012. See also “In the Eye of the Beholder: Haiku Interpretation.”

two months gone

her replacement’s shade

the same ash blond

        —Roberta Beary

On first reading this poem I confess I was a little puzzled, thinking it might be about a tree. Shade tree? Ash tree? Two months since a tree was cut down? That’s where I first went with this poem. And yet that interpretation didn’t make sense to me because it didn’t resolve with “her replacement.” Impatience would then have had me skip past the poem, feeling simply puzzled. However, patience with the poem gave me a different meaning, revealing a human topic: Two months after a spouse or girlfriend has died or left, a new relationship has bloomed, yet perhaps it is not new, since the new person’s shade of makeup or hair colour is the same ash blond as the pervious person’s. Perhaps the new person is therefore a surrogate for the departed person, or demonstrates that similar tastes prevail. We cannot help but feel skepticism regarding the depth of this new relationship, or the skepticism of the observer (the poet) in noticing this unchanged similarity.

        In this case, the name of the poet, which I believe can act as a “fourth line” to many haiku, gave me pause to reread the poem. I know Roberta frequently writes about family relationships, so that knowledge prompted me to read the poem again more carefully, especially when my initial “tree” interpretation very quickly didn’t work. Even if one does not know the gender, biography, or geographical location of the poet, it is always worthwhile to read with careful attention.

        That this poem is about people rather than trees might have been obvious to you on first reading, but perhaps we all have blind spots—topics or perspectives or interpretations that we might miss on reading haiku too quickly. Or that we might apply incorrectly by jumping to pet conclusions. So reading patiently is always a useful step when encountering haiku. It certainly helped me in this case. And of course, another reason to read a haiku patiently is to find extra layers of meaning. What additional layers of meaning can you find in this poem?


Roberta Beary’s “two months gone” is from A Few Stars Away: Towpath Anthology 2010, Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2011, page 22.