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
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
…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:-
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.