In Blithe Spirit Volume 10/2 (June 2000), Kai Falkman refers to a persuasive model he created – ‘The Pyramid of Meaning’ – which eventually became the title of the book published by Red Moon Press.He considers how Bashō’s

old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water

illustrates the model:-

…the first line evokes a peaceful scene (the old pond) which serves to ground the poem, in our earth as well as in our mind. We may call this the ‘earth line’. In the second line a movement occurs, the stillness is broken. The frog represents life which is unpredictable; nevertheless we start to predict. We may call this the ‘fantasy line’. The first line sets the reader’s brain working, searching in its memory for visual fragments that together produce a picture of an old pond. We might think of this as the base line of a triangle. The second line gets the brain excited and we might think of this ‘fantasy line’ as a line going upwards in the air. The third line connects the ‘fantasy line’ with the ‘earth line’, so creating a triangle. We may call it the ‘meaning line’.

But there is one further element in the inner structure of the haiku, namely feeling or emotion. Our emotions are released by the words in the first line. As our imagination paints a mental picture of the old pond, we are also aware of stillness and silence. Then we get a picture of the frog jumping in, the tension increases and our emotional response grows stronger. The ‘fantasy line’ and the ‘line of motion’ run parallel in seeking meaning. With the words ‘the sound of water’ the lines of fantasy, meaning and emotion collide more or less violently and we have an ‘Aha!’experience. In the reader, this collision arouses a feeling akin to sudden triumph, or joy, a wave of warmth, an unexpected jolt of meaning. To represent the line of feeling we have to convert our triangle into a pyramid, ‘the pyramid of meaning’. Satori…

Another example, then:-

Matsukoa Seira (1740-1791)

on the edge of the boat
kicking off my shoes –
the moon on the water

Falkman says:-

…a rapid switch from the external world of objects (‘edge of the boat’ [groundedness]) to the private sphere (‘kicking off my shoes’ [fantasy? or action-concept?]) and then abruptly to the eternal (‘the moon on the water’). The mental journey from the trivial to the moon leaves you dizzy [feeling]; suddenly we find ourselves staring down at the moon, before our thoughts fly up to the real one. In the original the surprise is even stronger: ‘mizu no isuki’ means literally ‘the water’s moon’. From the shoes our thoughts land first in the water, a logical sequence, and then they fly up to the moon…

In the second diagram ‘meaning’ seems to have disappeared or become ‘satori’ – a moment of enlightenment – so we’re left wondering how the model does work. Whether we know it or not, we all have some mental model of what’s going on when we put pen to paper. Falkman’s model is interesting because of its shape: everything that goes on internally for us meets at the top to produce the ‘aha!’ of the haiku itself. But the model omits to say what the fourth (concealed) line in the pyramid might represent. It’s worth thinking what it could be.

In fact, while preserving Falkman’s concept, the pyramid could be described differently:-

I devised this amended version of the pyramid model while I was once more mentoring my 30 year younger self by looking to see how a couple of old 5-7-5 haiku might measure up to Kai Falkman’s original. While I could very well understand its usefulness, I found the descriptors needed something else.

He has ‘hearing’ but why not the sense of ‘seeing’? The visual sense takes the place of his ‘fantasy’ descriptor which I have in turn replaced by ‘invention’ as the back line Falkman doesn’t include in his model. All mental activity could be said to be ‘inventing’: we invent the world by variously thinking, getting ideas, intuiting, fantasising, imagining, intellectualising, conceptualising, dreaming, pondering – it all comes under the heading of ‘inventing’; while ‘feeling’ is an emergent property of all this activity. Falkman has ‘earth’ – I see that as the activity of ‘Being grounded’.

I admit to having written this 5-7-5 haiku back in the early nineties:-

the sun organised
on the lake in a straight line
late evening in spring

Remembering the haiku moment, I would now change the haiku to:-

sun on the lake
in a straight line
late evening in spring

The first line serves to ground us – we know more or less where we are; the second line provides us with the complex feeling of a visual kind of shock; there is no sound, or at least noticing the straight line of light takes over our senses as we follow it upwards to compare it with the way we imagine the sun to be. But it all fades into a ‘late evening in spring’ that sits at the top of the pyramid. Satori! It may be that the three long ‘a’s and the alliterative ‘l’s have something to do with the internal energy – I didn’t notice them till I’d done the revision!

The Falkman model certainly seems to work to help to define the way a tolerable haiku works; but it’s absolutely not to be used as a formula for haiku-writing – simply a way of checking what’s going on behind the scenes. He has the word ‘meaning’ in his flat triangle but then he skates around the issue; it disappears in his description of the pyramid’s application, perhaps because ‘meaning’ is indefinable, an emergent something or other at the top of the pyramid. For all that sunlight it’s in the end just a ‘late evening in spring’.

I also remember this haiku moment well:-

in the old cabin
the wind is stirring curtains
and the day is poised

I might now render it thus:-

old cabin
curtains stirred by
a pause in the day

We are grounded by the first line. You could make a cut there or ‘old cabin’ could be an adjectival phrase to describe the curtains that are being moved by the gentle wind – seeing & possibly hearing – no need to mention the wind because air is being sucked into the vacuum created by the ‘pause in the day’ which substitutes for the day being ‘poised’ – before going on to something else. That’s now my little fantasy or ‘conceit’ as it would have been called in the 1600’s – my invention which seems to go along with the top of the pyramid feeling of loneliness, decay, absent occupants, their life permanently paused.

In his ‘A Year’s Speculations on Haiku’, Robert Speiss’ entry for 30th December goes like this:-

…haiku is not science [which] is only horizontal and linear – …in addition to the linear dimension of entities, [haiku] employs both depth and height – depth by entering into the underlying or subtle aspects of substance, and height by what can only be termed a mode of metaphysical intuition that profoundly ‘feels’ that entities derive their true inner nature from a non-material or noumenal source…

There’s something about the straight line of sun on lake and an old neglected cabin that can provoke feelings way beyond the capability of words – it’s just a certain something or other that exists for a moment at the top of Kai Falkman’s Pyramid. It’s taken me twenty years to understand how the model might work.

13 thoughts on “RANSACKING THE PAST 8 (R17)

  1. This is wonderful Colin, it opens up new pathways into the reality of haiku. The examples are stunning in their precision to the elements this glob explores. I don’t remember ever seeing this pyramid model before, but it does illuminate and help clarify this most mysterious art form.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great stuff! I’ve used Colin’s amended model and examples to rework a very early attempt at writing haiku. Here is the original …

      still waters
      meditative reflections
      shattered by ripples

      Written while deep in thought on a little wooden bridge, leading to an old church, on an island in a small secluded lake.

      And partly inspired by the book by John Moore – ‘The Waters Under the Earth’ which I think I first read in 1969.

      A second reworking …

      still waters
      meditative reflections
      a fish jumps

      And finally …

      still waters
      a fish jumps through
      my reflection

      Maybe in another 20 years … I’ll have ‘got it’

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks, Patrick. The pyramid model came into being around 2000. Kai Falkman, Swedish diplomat & haiku-man, devised it and it was published as a book called The Pyramid of Meaning in US by Red Moon Press, sunk without trace till now, I think. I’ve been dredging old articles in the British Haiku Society’s journal of 2000. Applying the model to my terrible old haiku, I felt it needed tweaking a bit – that’s the usefulness of models, isn’t it: until you see the point of them they don’t necessarily work for you so you modify them to suit. My version owes much to NLP of course and Gurdjieff – groundedness is Self-remembering; Visualising, Hearing, Feeling, Thinking/invention are what we have to get into balance in order to be fully-functioning human beings – the Fruit of Pure Impressions.


    1. Haiku appear to be simple. Imho that’s why many people take them up sometimes with disastrous results. When they succeed in imitating the classical writers they do quite well. But, again imho, it’s necessary to develop haiku-mind in order to develop properly in haiku-writing. That’s simple too when you set out on the journey: closing the gap between ordinary thinking and sensing what’s out there in front of you, becoming whatever it is that moves you to want to capture the essence of the moment, doing absolutely nothing unnecessary. Clive’s analysis illustrates the point very well indeed: though it does start with a grounded observation his, original becomes more of a mentalistic thought; the first variation is chopped up into three separate things – always a trap when you’re writing in three lines; the final variation is, dare I say, ‘perfect’ (as perfect as these things ever are) where ‘reflection’ means two things at the same time – something on the water and meditation interrupted by the conceptual fish that often disrupts ordinary thinking in everyday life.

      Bear in mind that my wife says I’m never ‘humble’…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I think Clive’s last attempt is the best of his attempts as it just “hits the right note”. Often I have written something in say January and in December I’m still “improving” it. Sometimes I haven’t quite got the idea / image right, and then I struggle with the form, but in the end I would have to ask “when is a poem / painting / dinner ever finished?”


      2. The idea for this one was born in around ‘63 when I was ‘duck courting’ at a secluded private lake. But only first written 2 years ago! The last version is bang up to date and undoubtedly the best – but I found it helpful to show the journey.


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