Dec 18 2009

Yamei – In one shrill cry

Published by at 9:28 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

In one shrill cry
by Yamei

English version by R. H. Blyth

In one shrill cry
the pheasant has swallowed
the broad field.

— from Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, by R. H. Blyth

/ Photo by TheLizardQueen /

I’ll say it now, this poem by Yamei is one of my favorite examples of haiku. Now I suppose you want me to explain why. Well, uh, hmm…

I lived for several years in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. It’s a largely rural island, and I lived “upcountry” where you’ll find lots of hilly fields and cow pastures. I’d drive my car through the winding country roads of Maui, and every once in a while I’d catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a burst of color — a pheasant startled from its hiding place. It’s ascent was always full of effort, churning earthen wings pushing its sunburst bright head aloft. But then, landing a few yards away, its dignity restored, breast out, watchful eye upon the yellowing sea of grass, the pheasant left no doubt as to who ruled that quiet field. One shrill cry confirmed it.

This haiku reminds me of those island moments.

And something about the way Yamei describes the cry as “swallowing” the broad field. You can almost hear the sharp sound hanging over the field’s dewy silence, defining the space. It is a wild cry, an assertion of self, an assertion of being and improbable lordship, Whitman’s “barbaric yawp.” It’s as if the pheasant’s cry casts out a net that draws in its whole world, making it his, making it a part of himself. That call creates union.

That “one shrill cry,” it wants to burst from your breast too. Let it loose. See what it draws into you.


Japan (17th Century) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Yamei

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Yamei – In one shrill cry”

  1. katherineon 18 Dec 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I have been focusing on opening my throat chakra through breathwork, meditation, laughter exercises, etc…. I see this as an opportunity to evoke my creative, intuitive nature as well as the ability to communicate better- and more happily. This haiku is positively radiant, and it describes exactly that all-encompassing outburst of energy that I am working toward. thanks for sharing!

  2. iljungon 18 Dec 2009 at 1:19 pm

    No, you do not need to explain. It froze me in time, as the shrill cry of a roused pheasant has done to me so many times in a field, engulfing my surroundings in a moment of timeless terror, the whirring of the wings, nailing me to my place while crying for me to cower.
    I read the poem and my heart stopped. Like it does in the deepest awakening.

  3. Nanci Warneron 18 Dec 2009 at 11:41 pm

    iljung says it well, as do you, Ivan. What I love about this poem though is how it can take an experience and in eleven words fully pull you into an experience, as though you were there; that it draws on a memory, perhaps an ancient memory, of that shrill cry.

    If you have ever been blessed enough to have stood and been surprised by the rush of wings of a powerful bird, heard the cry and felt the breath of air move around you, you have been touched in that moment by God and eternity–that place of alpha and omega.

    It also tells me what Katherine says, for I have always been the quiet one, not voicing my thoughts but delegating them to paper less they be denied. I need to open my throat chakra too. I’ve even been told so in Reiki, although I already knew it.

  4. N Bullon 24 Jun 2015 at 9:01 am

    Correction. Blyth’s translation of this haiku does not employ the word “shrill”. It reads
    “in one single cry” etc.

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