Ruth Yarrow's Haiku
Ruth Yarrow is a contemporary poet of haiku, born in Camden, New Jersey in 1939 of Quaker parents (Heuvel, 2003, p. 1). Mother of two, Yarrow reveals her passion for the environment and world peace through her poetry. Introduced to the art of haiku in the early 1970's while teaching at a New Jersey college, Touting a Masters Degree in ecology from Cornell University, Yarrow has taught at the college level and "as a naturalist" (No One Sees The Stems, 1981, p. 24). Yarrow has chosen Seattle as her current home. Yarrow is able to capture the essence of a moment and convey her passion for that moment in the space of a few words. Her passion for world issues was given life in haiku as is demonstrated in her first publication from 1981.
rain forest edge:
a huge leaf spills
One is able to visualize the huge leaf holding just enough moisture to capture the soft moonlight on a summer evening. Yarrow has the ability to use only the essential words necessary to force the reader to see the painting she has created. Haiku, by oriental standards, contain a 5/7/5 rhythm that is not strictly enforced in American Haiku. This unique form of poetry, in which, rhyme is unnecessary and words are reduced to the bare essentials, takes the simple fragments in time to paint a picture. Another example from her first publication:
at each step the baby's shadow
releases her foot
The vivid picture is best viewed with the eyes closed. The author is able to capture the moment so eloquently and allowed the reader to complete the masterpiece, with their own memories as paints on the palette. Imagine walking along an obscure path cradling your little baby. The imagery of the haiku depicts the mother's extreme concern for the baby's welfare that each step is deliberate and extraordinarily careful. At the same time, the beauty of the sunrise is not to be minimized. The 'step' ties it all together: the sunrise and the shadow. She also uses her womanhood to call attention to the natural reproductive essence unique to the female (Those Women Writing Haiku Chapter Two page 15).
she gently opens petals
to the ovaries
It is a natural transference from the petals of the flower to the reproductive organs of the woman. Yarrow beautifully depicts the femininity of the woman using her love of the environment as a back drop. Yarrow’s haiku are more uplifting than those of the well-known Masajo Suzuki who seems to use haiku to unburden herself of guilt. In her Love Haiku, Suzuki speaks of loneliness, betrayal, and death, almost synonymously.
it falls short of the surf
this stone I toss
There is an emptiness, which beckons the reader along the lonely shoreline. As if to emphasize the negativity, the stone also fall short. Suzuki seems to reiterate, throughout her haiku, the ways in which 'she falls short'. Although, it evokes deep emotion, sadness permeates her work. Her's is not the haiku one would want to read on a honeymoon.
shall I betray him?
or let him betray me?
the shrikes shrill cry
By contrast, Yarrow's work sings of babies, life, and hope, as is indicated by one of her most well known haiku:
warm rain before dawn:
my milk flows into her
The warmth of the scene of a mother nursing a baby is vividly painted here. The gentle warm rain echoes the gentle flow of warm milk into the newborn. The former brings nature to life and the latter nurtures the baby; unseen. The absence of a witness does not negate its veracity. The picture could be painted in oil and not be more beautiful than this simple haiku.
Yarrow is able to take the most natural setting and breathe life into it with just a few words.
Haiku is an ancient art form introduced to the world by Matsuo Basho. Traditionally accepted as Japanese. Americans have made tremendous inroads into the art and have subsequently transformed the rigid Japanese standards of 5/7/5 beats (or syllables per line). It typically evokes tremendous emotion or passion as in the following haiku by Yarrow from Sun Gilds the Edge (1998, p. 8).
I lift the baby
in spring sunshine
our shadows fuse
The image is so descriptive, not unlike anyone loving a child. One would lift the child to enable it to take in the glory of the spring day. We would want the baby to breathe in the aromas offered by the fresh flowers after being closed in over the long winter months. The fresh air and sunshine evokes a sense of abandon that might make someone feel almost giddy. Nature then returns the gift with a silhouette lying on the ground (illustrated in the book in the shape of a heart). In this case the image cradles the loving embrace of the pair. There can be no more pure and genuine love than between parent and child. The author does not indicate that it is her child but the sense of bonding gives me that impression. The spring day also is indicative of new birth.
The words have been carefully chosen to exude the sense of new life. No matter how many years it has been since the birth of my children, simple images such as this bring those days racing back to my subconscious.
Peggy Lyles, on the other hand, in her book To Hear the Rain (page 31) is much more light hearted as is seen in her haiku.
the scarecrow in the garden
drops its other glove
The harvest moon reflects an amber glow at twilight on the leaves of gold, orange and red. The mounds of leaves on the sidewalk rustle and crunch as the neighbors tenaciously cling to remaining days of fair weather as they become less frequent. Unlike any other season, the fragrance of autumn hovers in the air. The burning leaves leave a veil of smoke floating in the cool, but calm air. As the sun drops lower on the horizon the temperature dips noticeably. Pumpkins adorn the porches, carved into both humorous and strange caricatures accentuated by glowing candles.
The scarecrow’ other glove has long since disappeared, now drops its mate revealing the broomstick skeleton supported by a discarded two by four. Wearing a tattered flannel plaid shirt, the scarecrow is no more frightening than the stray deformed pumpkins remaining in the garden. Another one of Lyle’s light-hearted haiku is picturesque in just a few words (THTR, p. 64).
the wedding-ring quilt
There is stillness on a cold winter morning just after sunrise. Outside, snow covers everything like a white lumpy blanket. As the sun peaks out, it glistens and sparkles on the snowy branches and power lines as if they were covered with diamonds. Inside, the lumpy wedding-ring quilt hides the small children who are nestled on the living room floor huddling close to each other for added warmth. Being snowed in is an innocent, magical, yet, primitive time. One can imagine the power being out, as is so often the case, when there are giant snow storms. We feel helpless without electricity. How can we cook breakfast without the benefit of a toaster or a stove? How can we heat water for tea without a microwave?
The much coveted, ‘snow days’ meant school closings. When the kids awake, they will expect to be able to watch cartoons on television, which, of course, won’t work without electricity. Children would be forced to rediscover the simple forms of entertaining oneself instead of being entertained by the mind draining ‘boob tube’. One can imagine them donning their snow gear, bundled in layers of sweatshirts and pants. Covered with hats, gloves and boots, shoveling snow to build a snow fort can consume an entire day. Those were good memories.
There is a change in her tone in the following haiku (THTR, p. 57). She puts the audience in the front seat of a car with a curious toddler at the questioning age. Sometimes questions can be simple and then there are times that they require a good deal of thought. Lyles has encapsulated the most difficult question at the most difficult time that is both thought provoking and humorous.
my small son asks
who made God?
The tension is thick in a traffic jam. Cars are bumper to bumper. Mother is in front seat straining her neck to look around the traffic ahead of her. It’s hot and the mother is sweating from stressing about schedules to keep, places to be. Perhaps, horns are honking too. Impatience is thick. She is wondering if there is an accident ahead. Sirens may be heard in the distance. Or flashing lights may be seen from emergency vehicles. The little boy, who is in the back seat, interrupts the stress by asking the thought provoking question. Suddenly, the traffic jam disappears. Her attention is drawn to the question that has no answer. How can she possibly give her son a response? How can she not?
I thoroughly enjoyed all of Yarrow’s haiku. The fact that she is optimistic and light-hearted makes it an adventure. She not only reveals much of herself in her haiku. She also conveys her love of the environment and her desire to preserve it for her children and her children’s children. Although her children are now grown, her passion for preserving the environment has not decreased.
Heuvel, C., (2003). Modern Haiku, 34(3). Retrieved 8/7/2006 from
Lyles, P., (2002). To Hear the Rain, Brooks Books
Suzuki, M., (2000). Love Haiku, Brooks Books
Those Women writing Haiku Chapter Two, Retrieved 8/4/2006 from
Yarrow, R., (1981), No one sees the stems, High/coo mini-chapbook #14
Yarrow, R., (1998), Sun gilds the edge, Saki Press