Jeffrey Woodward: “Time with the Heron”

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Time with the Heron

The angler will do well to set his fly-rod aside and forget for a time the alluring ritual to-and-fro rhythm of a cast, to sit on the bank beneath an inviting willow, to watch the current slur over a sandy shallow or ruffle above a rift in the rock.

Time will allow one to study the blue heron not far from the willow’s shadow, to learn the skill that is his by concentrated patience and poise. The heron stalks his prey—stepping lightly upon stilts now—with a deliberation given only to one for whom time has no meaning. Even so, the heron’s painstaking stealth muddies the stream. Even so, the heron pauses, stares.

Time will allow one to repeat the lyrical names of hand-tied flies—Blue Quill, Royal Coachman, Pale Evening Dun, Yellow Sally, Gray Hackle—until the syllables become a meaningless babble, having only their own inherent musical properties, like the voice of the brook before the first man came.

Time will allow the angler, also, to study that maze of light everywhere at play with the water and to gaze, without ease of penetration, at the cloudy trail a heron makes.

when the water clears,
the mind, also, of
a great blue heron

From Jeffrey Woodward, Evening in the Plaza: Haibun and Haiku, Kindle Edition, Tournesol Books, 2013.

Jeffrey Woodward is well-published in several poetry genres. He became interested in haiku and haibun and in the early 2000s, founded Haibun Today. His haiku, haibun and tanka prose have been published widely in various journal and carried into a number of anthologies.


I published this piece because in my view Woodward is one of a very small number of writers of literary haibun – haibun that employ many of the poetic devices that free verse and prose poetry poets use in in their work.

I’d be interested in your reactions to this haibun if you’d care to not only say why you like it (or don’t – literary haibun can be too oblique and formal for some readers’ tastes).

Try reading it aloud and you’ll get a feel for the rhythms that Woodward has built into the piece.

One thought on “Jeffrey Woodward: “Time with the Heron”

  1. Quick impression is that this isn’t a haiku because haiku are about personal experience and this was about what someone else should do. I identify with watching a great blue heron hunt for fish, but do not identify with the writer’s view that he knows how someone else should spend time. The prose struck me as the author’s intent to be literary rather than inviting the reader to share an experience of spending time with a great blue heron. I have spent much time watching herons and streams, but could not identify with the idea of a current that slurs or a ruffle caused by a rift in a rock. Streams have riffles that are caused by rocks whether rocks have rifts or not. The assumption that the angler and the heron were males ignores the fact that female anglers and great blue herons exist too. Theme appears to be taking time to allow the muddiness of the mind to settle so that other things can be noticed, but the literary prose muddied the piece so much for me that I probably missed the point. Striking passages – “alluring ritual to-and-fro rhythm of a cast” and “maze of light everywhere at play with the water.” Haiku – Obviously, I didn’t connect with the prose which makes it impossible for me to contemplate most of the close reading questions. Seems to me that the author believes he knows the mind of the heron. The commas confused me although they were probably intended to invite speculation about the haibun. Title – could be interpreted as the value of spending time with the heron or opening the door to wondering about time in the heron’s experience. Perhaps if I hadn’t disliked the literary style so intensely I could use the title as a way into understanding what the author intended to communicate. Structure – The piece starts with gross movements of angler fly casting and heron hunting then narrows to the repetitiveness of the slow heron steps and repeating the names of flies then mind of angler and heron clearing.
    It was difficult to write the paragraph above because my norm is to make positive comments or say nothing. I read the haibun a few times and so disliked it that I was going to try one of the others. Then I read Woodward’s bio and Ray’s expression of interest in reactions whether positive or not and decided to continue. Perhaps any blog conversation that grows from this post will be fodder for growth for me. My mind is quite clear about one thing – literary haiku is not for me.

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