Table of Contents


Choose your favorite haiku

The Heron's Nest
a haikai journal ... 

Home  •  Journal  •  About  •  Connections

Volume II, Number 12: December, 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

      uphill trail
      the scarred trunk
      of a giant sequoia
                                            paul m.

Chinese ch'an (zen) master, Tung-Shan Liang-Chieh (807 - 869), said “The discovery of the subjective element in the objective is the beginning of self-discovery.” Go to the core of paul m.'s poem and this quote is fully illuminated.

On the surface there are two elements in this haiku, a trail and the trunk of a tree. The poet writes of the trail as being “uphill,” indicating that, at the time of his experience, he had been hiking up rather than down. “Uphill” also implies some hardship, of course, or at least considerable exertion.

The poet comes to an impressive tree and pauses to rest, and to admire. This particular tree is a giant sequoia, a species that can grow to be more than three hundred feet tall over the course of several millennia. The scars on its trunk are also records of hardship. “Uphill trail” and “scarred trunk”–the connection leads us deeper. We find that a mutual journey is involved; the poet and the sequoia, both on an upward trek. Since sprouting, the tree has constantly been acted upon by weather, sometimes extreme weather. It may have been struck by lightning, or scorched by forest fires, blazed by man, or had limbs broken off by wind or heavy snow. And, having lived much longer than any person presently alive, this tree has undergone far more trials and tribulations than has the poet. But clearly there is more inferred here than the comparison of scars on a tree to one man's strenuous hike up a trail. The juxtaposition of “scarred trunk” and “uphill trail” points directly to tenacity, the will to survive. Not only is the tree's tenaciousness suggested, and the hiker's, but that of all living things. Striving to live and to prosper, we become scarred. “Life is suffering,” the Buddha said.

While admiring this ancient tree, the poet suddenly becomes aware of himself as an integral part of an infinitely greater organism. The journey is seen to be more than a myriad individual struggles; it is one tremendous struggle.

The form this haiku has taken indicates that it emerged when the walls between subject and object dissolved. paul m. doesn't write himself into the poem, and by doing so separate himself from the world. Because of this we don't have to work our way through the divisiveness of a personal pronoun in order to realize what he realized. One of my favorite descriptions of haiku given by R. H. Blyth (and one that Master Liang-Chieh would surely have enjoyed) is this: “At the moment of composition or appreciation, there is no distinction between inner and outer. Life runs so freely between them that we perceive things by introspection, and our experiences of the ‘outer’ world have the same immediacy, validity, and certainty as have states of pure ‘self’ consciousness.” paul m.'s poem works in this way. He finds the subjective in the objective. Now he presents it to us. What . . . who do you find at the heart of this haiku?

  Christopher Herold
December, 2000