winter wind —
a cradlesong sung
in an ancient tongue
Haiku is a poetry not of the mind or invention, but of experience. When the subject of a haiku involves a
major human emotion such as love, it is the writer’s challenge not to overwhelm the poem. Haiku
writing is a way of seeing the world and expressing an insight in a manner as unadorned by the poet’s
opinion as possible.
Death, grief, and love are certainly parts of life and as such are subjects for haiku. But what is love?
The ancient Greeks used three words for love: eros, agape, and philia. Eros as love should be obvious.
Agape was used by early Christians more specifically than “altruism” alone. The word came to
mean love of God,or God’s love. In addition to “brotherly” love, Aristotle described
philia as showing love by a parent. It is this most basic perhaps original bond among humans that Billie
Wilson has indicated to the reader.
In the here and now of Wilson’s clear images, it is winter. We can hear the wind, see its effects,
and sense the cold. Next to consider is “cradlesong.” This is the crux of the haiku; it is
the genius of the poem. All at once, so simply, we can hear a lullaby and know that an infant is being
comforted. The rocking cradle or the embrace of a family member’s arms is a warm place sheltered
from the elements. Is the cradle an heirloom? Is there a handmade quilt? The position of the infant is
not clear nor need it be. Like so much in this haiku, this is open to interpretation according to the
life experiences of different readers. Just what language is sung is unanswered. By leaving this out, the
author allows each of us to look even further into our own traditions. My first thought was of some Native
American language. My ancestors surely sang in Gaelic. It could be Hebrew, Greek, Chinese, or almost any
language — even a European one.
I used to sing to my daughter; my wife did; so too did various older women in the family. My wife’s
maternal grandmother was the family champion. Sick child? One who won’t relax and go to sleep? Just
make the handoff to Grandma Willoughby. Edith would croon softly in an unlovely yet effective voice.
Sometimes she would walk around the room to the beat of her droning melodies. I also saw this comfort
given to various nieces and nephews. In my vision of the poem the singer was between 85 and 95 years old
as she worked her magic.
Billie Wilson’s craft employs expansive words and has them in the right order. The sound of the
harsh wind is juxtaposed in fine balance with comfort and safety.
Cannot we all hear it? Familial love is such an ancient song.