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Valentine Awards 2000

The Heron's Nest
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Volume II, Number 11: November, 2000.
Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editor's Choices •  Haiku: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 •  Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      dragonfly . . .
      the tai chi master
      shifts his stance
                                            Peggy Lyles

Tai chi is a martial art, a way to attain overall fitness and harmony, and a form of meditation. The origins of tai chi are lost to time. Although descriptions of individual postures and their principles have been found in records over 3,500 years old, the first set of recognizable postures is attributed to Chang San Feng, a monk living in the mountains of China about 600 years ago. Today tai chi is usually practiced very slowly, a graceful moving from posture to posture without losing touch with one's center of gravity. Increasing the tempo turns the practice into a martial art, the most popular school of which is the Yang school. Interestingly, a classic symbol for yang is the dragon, the same mythical beast for which the insect in this haiku was named. Tai chi originally developed from observations of birds, beasts, and insects whose movements, undistracted by thought, are immediate and in harmony with their environment.

Dragonfly and tai chi master–is the poet speaking of two entities or one? I've heard the dragonfly described as the “ultimate flying machine.” By observing one we can see how beautifully it maintains its balance. In flight the thorax is nearly motionless between wings blurred by speed, wings which can carry this insect instantaneously in any direction. Even when not in flight the dragonfly shifts its position quickly, surely, and without hesitation. It is a natural master of tai chi, which literally translated means “supreme ultimate.” Together, the words are meant to express “living life to it's fullest.”

From another perspective, the poet may have witnessed the interplay between two beings, a dragonfly and a person practicing tai chi. The insect may have unexpectedly appeared in front of this person, hovering a few inches away, or perhaps it landed on one hand, or on the sleeve of an outstretched arm. Imagine being taken by surprise by this sudden presence. A change of stance would be a natural reaction. Or maybe, delighted by the company of such a flying ace, the master shifted in order to better observe the insect. The two may even have moved in unison, dragonfly and tai chi master performing a dance in order to better study one another.

The musical qualities of language are important to haiku and should be considered carefully. Readers balk (consciously or unconsciously) at unbalanced rhythms or tongue-twisting phrases. Conversely, language that calls too much attention to itself, whether through rhyme, cleverness, the use of complex or technical words or grammar, etc., also diminishes the impact of a haiku. Read aloud, Peggy's haiku has a classic rhythm: brief opening, a clear break, and smooth follow-through. The qualities of sound are also well-considered. The long “i” in “dragonfly” comes again right away in “tai chi.” The short “a”s in “master” and “stance” are at the ends of the second and third lines. In those same two words, the “st” consonance is heard first in the middle, then at the end respectively, saving the poem from too overt a rhyme. The opposite consonance (the “ts” in “shifts”) falls neatly between “master” and “stance.” These sounds are beautifully spaced, enhancing rather than detracting from the reading. This poem has a relaxed, conversational tone. Because the language is well balanced, the experience is more immediately accessible. Haiku tai chi!

  Christopher Herold
November, 2000