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The Heron’s Nest

a haikai journal ...


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Volume VI, Number 7: August, 2004.
Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors’ Choices • Commentary • Haiku Pages:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5 • Index of Poets


Heron’s Nest Award


    cloudless sky
    the baaing
    of penned sheep
                                       Carolyn Hall

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 cheek.

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 already.

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 entertaining haiku.



Christopher Herold
August 2004


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