circle of lamplight —
I complete the baby quilt
begun for me
Haiku poets and critics, ancient and modern, agree that one of
haiku’s essential features is a sense of seasonality. When nature and
her seasons are effectively linked to human experience great emotional depth
is possible in a brief poetic expression. In some haiku, seasonality may be
explicitly conveyed by a season word. In other instances, such as this
issue’s Editors’ Choice Award winner by Carolyn Hall, it may be
implicit, a feeling or sensibility that dwells everywhere in the poem
without specific mention anywhere.
The visual image in the first line creates a frame-within-a-frame,
focusing our attention and drawing us intimately into the poem’s
activity. The em-dash marking the end of line one functions like a
kireji, the Japanese “cutting word,” giving emotional
emphasis to the image that precedes it, as well as providing its own
frame that separates the poem’s two juxtaposed images.
The circle and light and darkness are visual and spiritual images
that resonate throughout the entire poem. In our species’ infancy
light was fire, which also provided warmth and safety from dangers
real and imagined. In our personal infancies such a sense of security
and comfort was most likely afforded by a treasured family quilt or
tattered old blanket. The passage from darkness to light marks the
end of an old day and the start of a new one. The circular glow of
the light suggests our planet’s path around its lamp, the sun, a
journey responsible for the very seasons we celebrate in haiku. The
circle is also a symbol of continuity, and the seasons that mark our
ascendence, decline, and eventual demise flow seamlessly one into the
next, year after year.
The theme of continuity is picked up in line two; the quilt begun for
the poet before she was born is now being completed by her. Quilting,
often a communal activity, is here carried out in solitude. The
family and friends who first worked on it have possibly passed on,
but they are present in the quilt that bears their love and
craftsmanship and in the love and skill with which the poet, whom
they probably taught to quilt, completes their work. Might the
quilter be completing this now for a new relative, and might other
babies she will never personally know one day be comforted by it as
For me, the season that resonates throughout the poem’s images and
deepens its emotional significance is winter. Perhaps the most
complex of haiku’s seasons, it seems the very edge between light and
The cold brevity of its days makes us take stock of the rapidity with
which our time here is passing.
It is the season of completion, of the cycle of the year, and of our
lives. Though it is the time of the longest, coldest nights, it can
also be a time of austere, even lush beauty.
In the midst of this cold and darkness, the gradual lengthening of
days hints that powerful forces of renewal are at work, for the point
at which a circle is completed is the point at which it begins again.