Compact Emotion

     The minimalist power of haiku.

Fields upon fields, clear

Yellow in the cool; some geese

       Rise; the moon is full

Centuries ago, poetry was central. Epic tales were told in poetry. In the 17th and 18th centuries, poets were literary giants—Coleridge, Milton and Wordsworth (“She was a phantom of delight, when first she gleamed upon my sight/A lovely apparition sent, to be a moment’s ornament.”)

     And now? Well, in this age of infotainment, we watch reality TV shows about bounty hunters, repo men and bachelorettes, as well as YouTube videos of kids crashing on skateboards. And some say we aren’t cultured!

     And yet, a few poets remain who labor to wring powerful emotion out of compact words, language and imagery. Rebecca Lilly, who lives in Charlottesville and Port Republic, is one of them, a writer whose principal interest is haiku—a form of Japanese poetry: three lines with five, seven and five syllables, respectively. “I like the Zen philosophy behind it,” says Lilly, 39, who has degrees from William and Mary, Cornell and Princeton (a Ph.D. in philosophy) and has also written two books on spiritual philosophy and practice. “I’ve always been interested in the ways in which a direct experience with nature can create self-transcendence, or at least a loss of ordinary self-consciousness. All good art induces this, I think, but haiku can do it in minimalist fashion.”

     And that, when you think about it, makes haiku perfect for our atomized culture. Here are two more Lilly haiku with a seasonal theme.

     Autumn dusk grows cool …

Humps of great oak roots shadow

       The path through the woods

     Cedars scenting from

Woods hollows; boulders hold moon-

       Glow; this time alone

The following haiku are in addition to those that appeared in the print edition of Virginia Living:

     Shadows passing through

One another; the pine boughs

     Swaying against the moon

     Shady spots; under

Gnarled oaks, the crows raucous,

     Scattering raindrops

     From cliff rocks, the crows

Caw; field stalks with frosted stones;

     Horse dung and leaf mold

     Cloud tendrils float; wind

Against the cedar limbs; from

    Stones, running snow-melt

     Crows arc at sundown …

Their shadows … whitewater sounds

     As wind parts the clouds

     Rock shards; juniper

Root; from gnarled limbs, moon floats

      Out; starlings return

     Watery sun-rings

Across the lake; frosted leaves

      Hang; the clarity

     Gathered clouds, here and

There almost shadows; sky blown

     Whole through the shallows

     A leaf-strewn footpath

Toward the mountain spring patterns

      Sunlight with our steps

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