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Valentine Awards 2000

The Heron's Nest
a haikai journal ... 

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Volume II, Number 9: September, 2000.
Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

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

Heron's Nest Award

One warm summer night, with the sky clear and the stars numberless, a poet decides to walk to the nearby seashore. He comes to an old lighthouse, one no longer in use so that it appears doubly dark, just a familiar shape looming up into the sky. It occurs to the poet that this structure, built for the purpose of sending out light, is in fact blocking the light from some stars, light that has traveled untold distances at an incredible speed. The lighthouse seems to have become a black hole, darker even than the surrounding night. Realization consumes the poet and he writes a haiku.

      summer stars missing:
      the dark shape
      of the dark lighthouse
                                            William Cullen Jr.

Such a distinctive shape, the lighthouse; an icon that simultaneously represents danger and protection. Lighthouses call our attention to perilous shores, and in so doing guide us away from them. Stars too are navigational aids. As with lighthouses, stars evoke a wide range of emotions. Inconceivably vast, the starry universe can appear frightening and inhospitable, yet it tantalizes us with its mystery and inspires our imaginations. While gazing at the heavens we can feel infinitesimally small, insignificant, ignorant, alone. We can also be relieved. Overwhelming personal problems lose their grip, giving way to an awe of the impersonal magnitude of space. In the light of infinite stars comfort can be taken in our very ignorance, wisdom that comes with a sense that in the final analysis the playing field is level; we are all in this together.

A lighthouse blocks the view of some stars. The poet may be considering that the technologies we create to help us find our way can sometimes obscure it – when navigating towards worldly goals, often short-sighted and self-centered, we must necessarily lose sight of a bigger picture.

I imagine that, for William Cullen Jr., feelings and speculations such as these must have taken place as he gazed at the lighthouse and the night sky beyond. And surely all the while he was under the influence of incessantly pounding surf. As the stars seem eternal, so too does the sea, and the sound of collapsing waves. When pondering lighthouses there is a sense of eternity as well, at least of continuity – a beam of light ceaselessly sweeping the sea, blinking on and off, day and night. But the one in this haiku seems to be out of commission. And as for those twinkling stars, some of them have gone out too – some long, long ago. Yet their light continues to reach our eyes . . . unless of course there's a lighthouse in the way.

This haiku represents an evening of immensity. Visually it is striking, powerful in its stark contrasts of dark and light, dark and darker, near and far. Inherently it resonates on both emotional and intellectual levels, delighting us with irony while intimating those age-old questions: who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

  Christopher Herold
September, 2000