April Romberger

Anita Virgil's Haiku

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001

April Romberger



Anita Virgil's Haiku

I find that, as a reader and would-be writer of haiku, the thing I admire most about Virgil’s work is her subtlety. She has a wonderful tendency to select the language of her poems just so, leaving evidence of something beyond what the words clearly state without coming across as vague or obscure. There is evidence of a true artistry in this, for surely it is not an easy effect to achieve.

As I have pointed out in a previous essay, one of the areas in which this subtlety may be found and admired is in her juxtaposition of man and nature. Virgil’s haiku often focus on some scene or event in nature. By the words alone, there is often no mention of a human being at all. Yet at the same time, there is an unmistakable human presence implied. It is one that the reader may easily slip him/her self into in order to actually experience the moment of interface in Virgil’s poem rather than merely read of it.

An excellent example of this effect may be found in her haiku,

the cat’s eyes:
a small chirp

While no human is mentioned at all in the actual poem, it leaves the definite impression that there is a human presence involved. As a reader of this poem, I imagine the cat as having been curled in my lap, being petted the moment before the action in the haiku occurs. This connection between cat and human is nowhere stated in the poem, but none the less evident. Another reader may not see the animal curled up beside them, but will in the least describe the moment as being observed by human eyes. Certainly, it cannot be denied that there is some element of human connection to nature in this haiku. It is in every way implied, though never stated. This effect is evident in much, if not all, of Virgil’s haiku, and adds to it a skilled, masterful quality.

Although the structure of many of Virgil’s haiku is similar, consisting of this shown nature acting before the implied presence of man, they do not become boring or monotonous. This is because each natural scene with which the reader interfaces through reading her haiku is very different, and the interface is always unique. I would even say that her subtlety makes the haiku more resonant and deep, making them worth reading over and over again.

Another poem in which Virgil’s subtlety implied through language as well as the depth it can add is strongly evident is in the haiku,

on the hot lawn
only the mushroom’s

In this poem, again, no human is mentioned outright. The bright sun beats down upon the grass, flora, and fauna here with only the small shade of a mushroom present to offer relief from it. The entire implication of human presence here rests on the word "lawn." This specific word informs the reader that the place where this occurs is near a human dwelling, a piece of land tended by human hands. Also, it adds the connotations of a lawn as being a part of nature that humans have claimed for themselves to interact with nature on. The fact that this mushroom has been allowed to grow upon the lawn implies an appreciation or tenderness for the natural world on the part of humans. In this way, the meaning of the haiku is greatly expanded through that particular selection of vocabulary. This effect is in no way rare in the excellent haiku of Anita Virgil.

Going a step further into the importance choice of words may have in her haiku, we may look at Virgil’s whimsical haiku,

in the seed flats
one forget-me-not
forgot what to do

In this charming haiku, nature, again all that is directly mentioned, is appropriated into human life and even imbued with that same life itself. The mention of seed flats informs the reader that these are young plants that have been adopted by a human. There remains throughout the haiku this sense that the plants are the adopted children of the persona, therefore making the nature/humanity interface of this particular haiku rather unique. The subtle tone of chiding and disappointment in the last line parallels the thoughts one might associate with those of a mother at the failure of her child in some task laid out before him/her.

In this haiku, Virgil plays with the name of the plant and its actions through her use of language, and very much humanizes the young plants in the last line, carrying on the idea of the seedlings as adopted children to the persona. In this case, the subtle implication and use of language not only add to the poem’s charm but also communicate the most significant aspect of its meaning. Although the latter could be said of any of her haiku if one views the most significant meaning of haiku to be the statement it makes about the connection between man and nature, the importance of what is present only in implication is most obvious in this particular haiku.

Virgil’s reverence and awe for nature are strongly evident in her haiku, and another reason I find them to be so appealing. The fact that so many of her haiku focus on nature rather than humans implies this reverence, yet in some of them, the sentiment is far more obvious. The haiku,

the swan’s head
turns away from sunset
to his dark side

demonstrates a certain drama which often colors her portrayals of nature. Once again, the human element is present as the silent observer to this action of nature. The vivid beauty of the scene is plainly expressed and emphasized by the lack of any other overtly expressed element in this haiku. The language conveys the beauty and drama of the natural display, and the use of subtly implied human presence rather than an expressed one serves to prevent the disruption of the beauty while still assuring meaning. There is simply no doubt that human eyes are witnessing the captured moments of nature in Virgil’s haiku. Her method of preventing the human element from detracting from her portrayal of nature indicates its importance to her and grants the un-tampered beauty of some of her images. She often presents her reader with pure nature so that, as they step into the implied position of human witness, what they experience is a pure interaction of mankind and the natural world.

Her reverence of nature is also most evident in the haiku,

this spiderweb
so different I
leave it alone

The natural beauty of the spider’s web is so great that the persona cannot bring herself to sweep it away in her cleaning. It is a masterpiece so unique that its continued existence takes precedence over cleanliness. Through this meaning, we can clearly see the value that Virgil places upon beauty and nature. In this case, the human element is much more strongly explicit than in most of her poems, but it is so to serve a certain purpose. As such, this example demonstrates that Virgil not only has great skill in conveying things subtly through her language, but also exercises control over this ability in choosing its appropriateness to the message she wishes to convey. She forgoes it in this example in order to express more clearly the idea of a specific interaction. This haiku shows nature exerting the influence and strange power of its beauty over human will. It more explicitly displays the same themes and ideas as are often subtly expressed in her other work.

The subtlety and use of language that characterize Virgil’s haiku are its greatest strength, and indicate a great amount of skill on her part. Those elements included only by implication are just as important to the meaning of her haiku as those elements which are directly stated or described. Since she manages to include these elements clearly though not expressly, they may be enjoyed by the reader while at the same time challenging him/her to find them in a way. Her haiku are neither difficult to figure out, nor one-dimensional. This depth and richness achieved through the characteristic subtle implications of manipulated language makes the haiku of Anita Virgil skillful, poignant, and delightful to read.


Van den Heuvel, Cor. The Haiku Anthology. W.W. Norton & Company: New
York 1999.

Virgil, Antia, and and Vincent Tripi. On My Mind. Ed. Michael Dylan Welch.
California: Press Here, 1993.

Virgil, Anita. One Potato Two Potato Etc. Peaks Press: Virginia 1991.

Virgil, Anita. Pilot. Peaks Press: Virginia 1996.

—April Romberger


©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors