of penned sheep
This outstanding haiku is also quite unusual. It demonstrates an
astonishing balance of intense (heavy) emotions, intellectual musing,
and whimsical association. One can approach it from several directions,
producing very different feelings with each reading. The literal and
figurative interpretations are also beautifully balanced.
Paired images of freedom and confinement produce a heightened tension
between exhilaration and sympathy, or even distress. Though the intense
interaction between these emotions seems to be at the heart of this
poem, so too are the philosophical and light-hearted implications.
From the philosophical standpoint, a cloudless sky can suggest more than
freedom. It can suggest purity, faultlessness, wisdom, or enlightenment.
Associate these concepts with a popular use of the word “sheep” in
reference to people who blindly follow rather than think for themselves.
Although “self-penning” behavior is often voluntary, it is commonly
accompanied by feigned helplessness and much bleating. Considering this
angle, it would seem that Hall’s poem is infused with a healthy dollop
of social commentary.
In the realm of whimsy, how about “counting sheep?” Have you ever (when
anxious or otherwise too preoccupied to fall asleep) been advised to
“count sheep?” This antidote for insomnia is intended to short-circuit
the overactive mind by refocusing attention on an activity so boring
that relaxation naturally occurs. It is then easier to let oneself drift
off into the relative freedom of sleep—a relatively cloudless sky.
Meekly, I admit to a vision of freeing those poor penned animals and
counting them as they go.
Last, but certainly not least, and with a good measure of sheepishness
(haiku guilt) for bringing up this notion . . . what about sheep as
clouds? Fluffy white cumulus sheep, and the occasional cumulonimbus? The
sky is cloudless.
Surely this is because the clouds have been herded down from the heavens
into the confines of a pen.
Set free, they’ll
drift up and away, filling the sky again. Hmmm . . . could it possibly
be that Carolyn Hall mulled over such fantasies too? I’d bet on it.
Maybe she’s still laughing as she tries to get the tongue out of her
I don’t doubt that there are other possible readings. I know of another
fanciful one, but I think I’ll leave you to find it, if you haven’t
On a technical note (and in hopes of steering away from my suggesting
a connotation that involves a simile—perish the thought!),
the hard “c” sounds in the first line enhance a sense
of clarity—a crystalline vision. The sounds of the second
line add to a feel of mindless helplessness. Repeated “p”
sounds in the final line add to the feeling of restriction.
Many thanks to Carolyn Hall for sharing this well-wrought, thoroughly