Treasure Island

Chenou Liu


Moon Festival Haiku


Moon Festival
alone, I whisper to myself
in my mother tongue

Submitted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Edited: Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

Editor's First Choice, Showcase Haiku Haijin, No.1
Sketchbook,6: 5, September/October 2011


Editor's Comment:

'Moon Festival' is an ancient Chinese cultural event occurring on the 15th of the 8th lunar month; the festival is a millennium-old festival, dating back to 2000 years ago. Different regions or groups of people have different ways to celebrate the festival. Generally speaking, it is mainly a night for family sharing time. Today, it is celebrated sometime between the second week of September and the first week of October. Chinese culture is deeply imbedded in traditional festivals; in the West traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas are culturally similar in tenor to Eastern traditions like the Moon Festival. The celebration has many aspects. It is a very poetic and elegant celebration—people place ornaments and offerings next to windows, on verandas, and in other places where the moon can be seen in conjunction with items like vases filled with pampas grass and autumnal herbs—people prepare seasonal foods like dumplings, pears, persimmons, and grapes. Moon Festival is an occasion for family reunions, similar to the family events associated with an American (Western) Thanksgiving and / or Christmas. When the full moon rises, families get together to watch the full moon, eat moon cakes and sing moon poems (World Haiku Data Base) .

The kigo, 'Moon Festival' is laden with cultural meaning—and much of that meaning may be obscure to readers unfamiliar with Chinese traditions. In Chen-ou Liu's haiku the kigo 'Moon Festival' is a simplistic statement with a rich cultural message; that message is one of the advantages of haijian who use kigo. The kigo found in a saijiki have been selected because they, in a word or two, express volumes of meaning. In her World Haiku Data Base Dr. Gabi Greve has collected the information above about 'Moon Festival'. …And in employing this kigo Chen-ou Liu is expressing the sentiments in a millennium of Chinese cultural custom. In the world of haiku, kigo carries out a rhetorical function that Western writers call understatement—a figure of speech in which a writer / speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is. The direct and denotative kigo statement, 'Moon Festival', shows restraint and a lack of emphasis, when in point of fact the phrase is an understatement that really conveys a host of implied and connotative details expressed in the previous paragraph. The kigo is the most important element in this haiku and it is balanced against the second most important element, the word 'alone'. In this haiku the narrator finds himself in a painful situation on this family occasion—he is 'alone', isolated from the meaningful events and occasions of his past. These two elements of this haiku offer a contrast of the past with the present—and the two situations are painfully different. Through understatement Chen-ou Liu displays a severe contrast between the descriptive details of what usually takes place during a 'Moon Festival' and what in reality is taking place for the narrator on this particular 'Moon Festival'—he is alone. His subsequent action: 'I whisper to myself / in my mother tongue' is a second understated event. He 'whispers' and his chosen expression is 'in my mother tongue' a language he probably no longer uses for daily communication, having had to learn a new language because the environment in which he lives does not use his 'mother tongue' for communication. This haiku uses simple language embedded in a complex structure; this haiku is a memorable example of restraint in artistic expression. Through understatement the reader comes to comprehend what is not being said directly and understands the pain the narrator is experiencing.

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