I've got to say, this one will enter my personal haiku hall of fame and will be an example I'll often quote. Its accessible for even the newest haiku reader but the easy to visualize image of a ongoing community of the deceased quietly reaching out to one another, resting upon, or leaning on each other is by no means a "simple" haiku. It is a well constructed and fool proof haiku. As previously said, its "comforting." Though the words are not the least bit emotional, they certainly provoke a deep and satisfying emotional response. Hats off to you JF.
I am full of admiration for this haiku!
As several readers have already commented, it is really deep. And it is really nice to see the poet sharing some of his vision and thought process that led to it. Sometimes when I have written a poem the recipient has told me about levels of meaning which I certainly didn't consciously intend, and I offer up humble thanks to the poetic muse. Jane Reichhold in her book of Basho, The Complete Translations, talks about how frequently when she translates Basho she finds some of the words he has used in Japanese are extremely rich in meaning. There might be a page of alternate translations to the word, each with nuance of meaning that a native Japanese reader would have intuited, but in an English translation a choice has to be made that ends up limiting our opportunity to appreciate these extra levels of possible meaning. So native English haiku of this calibre are endlessly engaging. I find in this poem by Jay Friedenberg a range of possible connotations in the words "neighbour" and "shadow" that open to me an even richer range of emotional experiences and thoughts than the obvious one in the cemetary. For instance it also conjured images of a suburban neighborhood, with houses lined up – as in the words of the immortal song: "Little Boxes on the hillside…" I began to think of how houses in these neighborhoods are like empty tombs, and how the pressure to "keep up with the Jones's" results in a shallow material existence that is like a living death.
Beautiful and profound and extremely deep. Thank you Jay. Here is my own poetic response prompted by your wonderful haiku:
just before sunset
the tombstone shadow stretches
Strider, while I appreciate Friedenberg's poem – I find your's even more beautiful. It conjures up an image in my mind of a long shadow stretching towards the horizon, in the red light of a dimming day. I find layers of meaning in it – and I would be intrigued if you could tell me whether they were the ones that you intended. Haiku – like all poetry – seems to be not only a medium for the writer to express their thoughts and emotions – but it acts also like a key to unlock thoughts and feelings in the reader. Perhaps it is a connection between the left brain and the right?
Anyway – to your poem. "Just before sunset" – of course we all know that time of day when shadows are absurdly elongated. I have many memories of seeing my own shadow stretching into the distance. It's a universal experience. But the next line: "the tombstone shadow stretches" – invests the sunset with a symbolic meaning. The setting sun of an ending life? At the end of life surely it must seem as though impending death fills the future, stretching black and stark like the shadow of a tombstone. But "infinity" is an interesting choice of word to "end" a poem and "end" a life on. Most people think of death as an "end" – a "finitus". "Infinity" implies endlessness, unknowable and indescribable. A confronting yet a comforting thought.
In going back to my memories of my own shadow "just before sunset", I find yet another layer of (possible) meaning. We contain in our bodies the inevitability of our mortality. Just as tombstones mark past death, so our living bodies contain our future death. So my memory of my shadow blends with an image of a tomb…