Read "January Willow" at The Eldritch Dark:
This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a revised version of "California Winter", which I looked at in my last blog post.
"January Willow" is an interesting evolution of the earlier poem, which featured a concrete, unambiguous image of a willow tree in winter, rendered with a very straightforward vocabulary. In this revised version, CAS introduces a more poetic language and intent, veering away from the directness implied in a "haiku moment". Quite noticeable is the greater use of consonance in "January Willow", as well as the very rhythmic closing line "Space the boughs against the blue."
One could argue that "California Winter" is essentially photographic, in that it captures a specific image in plain language. In contrast, "January Willow" is more impressionistic, creating an image that is less precise but richer with the music of the language itself, as in the exquisite middle line "Leaves illumed with perished autumn".
Of the two versions of this poem, it's the impressionistic "January Willow" that CAS arranged for publication in his omnibus Selected Poems (1971). Both versions of the poem have their own unique strengths, but I can't disagree with CAS' apparent preference for "January Willow", as it succeeds in moving beyond the specificity that is common to the haiku form and taking its subject matter into a more creatively rewarding space.
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