Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Cast Iron Cauldron

You cannot enjoy a haiku if you have not acquired the taste for it. The taste is a means to ensure that you can have a genuine and superlative relationship with a thing. And, when it comes to an aesthetic object, taste ensures that you can enjoy it, that you can talk about it in a knowledgeable way, that you can write about it successfully. I will try to convince you that the poem below is a true ars poetica, a representative model for writing haiku.

the cast iron cauldron -
moonlight sprinkles its rays
into the polenta

Costin Iliescu

In an elliptical way, without naming the thing evoked, only by alluding to it, this poem introduces us to a certain atmosphere. That of a dark night. Moonlight, the cast-iron cauldron and the polenta evoke the fact that somewhere out there polenta is cooking. The darkness is additionally and strongly shaped through the hint at the darkness of the cast-iron. Initially the name of the iron, the material from which the cauldron is manufactured, it has become synonymous with the cauldron, and has added the meaning of blackened by smoke, from where the adjective clad - covered.

The allusive correspondences do not stop here. Both moon and polenta are yellow, round and bright - there must be a magic, spiritual connection between them. If we surrender to daydreaming, contemplating the gradual taking shape of the polenta in the iron-clad cauldron, we have the impression that the moon’s rays are sprinkled into the pot and, as everything is being stirred, it becomes polenta.

Yet, even more interesting is the hint to the sprinkling of salt and to the whole phrases moonlight, sprinkles its rays into the polenta. I put a comma for you to grasp the meaning that the moonlight is only a pinch of salt you sprinkle above the cooking food. Once the right quantities are carefully chosen, we get the same effect as for the salt we sprinkle in food to spice things up – salt becomes indispensable for the mixture of ingredients to become tasty, not to remain dull.

Allegorically speaking, no matter how black, how dark, how dull things are, if you have a bit of salt (and moonlight can help anyone at that) to sprinkle into the polenta, the latter will not just be hearty but downright tasty. And, together with it, life itself.

In his latest book, The Unseen Side Decides Everything, Patapievici says: "All sense of our life can be thought of as making visible, through our way of seeing, an invisible part of the world and of each other." Haiku seems to do exactly this, as it enables us to access some spicier visions of the world that transfigure the insipid visible world.

It is obvious that the wording does not use sentences. True, the second part, considering that sprinkle would be a verb, with the meaning of hopping, throwing itself off, precipitating itself, it flirts with this variant of a sentence, but the meaning of its sprinkling (like salt does in the kitchen) has a primacy in shaping the superlative meaning of the whole poem. The idea of the poem is that, in the context of a summer’s night when, under the stars, polenta is cooking, moonlight is actually the salt (the spicy spirit) that gives the authentic taste to polenta. And now we realize that the first interpretation is conjugated with the second: moonlight really gets precipitated into the polenta to meet the magical valence of the scene.

By summing up the mix of words not forming sentences, the text cannot announce, describe, interpret, influence or show off some emotional mood. It names two things, it evokes their images. True, the moonlight may seem a metaphor for salt (or vice versa?), but here it is rather a figure of speech specific to haiku - the transfiguration, that which makes the moonlight be only an interface between two worlds, that of the visible and that of the (allegorical) vision.

(Corneliu Traian Atanasiu)

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