I confess that I had no real intention of choosing another haiku poem for this week’s post, but I was reading through a few of them yesterday morning and I came across one that was about a dragonfly, written by Matsuo Bashō.
Can’t quite land
on that blade of grass.
I was struck by the poem’s simplicity in much the same way as I was with the three that I shared last Monday, but there was something additional that made me gravitate towards this particular one. I felt compelled to write about it. There was an incident that happened while I was on vacation at the end of August involving a dragonfly that flew into the house one night in the midst of a bit of chaos. It was, without a doubt, the largest dragonfly that I’d ever seen, absolutely beautiful in shades of iridescent blue and green, and it caused quite the commotion as it tried to navigate its new surroundings. My daughter has a no-kill policy when it comes to most insects, and so I’ve become very adept at catching things carefully and helping them find their way back outside. This dragonfly, however, tested all my skills. After 15 minutes of Herculean effort that probably should have been captured on YouTube, I managed to coax it into a colander and return it to safety. After things calmed down, I couldn’t help but think about how incongruous it was that it had found his way into the house in the first place. Dragonflies are not nighttime bugs. It should have been sleeping in the marsh somewhere. Did this one have a particular message?
After doing just a bit of research, I learned that dragonflies are considered to be symbols of transformation by most cultures of the world. They begin their lives in water as rather unremarkable looking grayish-brown aquatic creatures, hatching from eggs that were laid on its surface. They grow, and eventually change, by the gradual process of molting, rather than by the startling kind of metamorphosis that occurs with butterflies. One day the dragonfly larva climbs out of the water and onto a blade of grass, sheds its outer skin for the last time, revealing wings that will enable it to fly. Because the dragonfly changes slowly, and because that change occurs in water, the entire process is thought to symbolize the kind of deep transformation that arises from self-realization and emotional maturity. Yet the dragonfly continues to be comfortable on the water, as well as in the air, leading to the further interpretation that it can see life from more than one perspective, and that it remains respectful of how its life began.
In ancient times, Japanese farmers saw the dragonfly as the spirit of the rice plant and a welcome sign of a good harvest, making it a summer symbol whose presence extended into fall. Eventually it became the country’s national emblem, and it is widely seen as indicative of joy, rebirth, and new light by the Japanese people. Bashō would have known all of this, of course, when he composed this haiku. The most significant part of the poem’s meaning is that a dragonfly can never go back to land on the particular blade of grass where it first realized it had wings. Isn’t this true about any journey of self-discovery? We do think about the way in which we’ve transformed, and our minds do hover over the moments when the most profound changes occurred. Although we can’t return to being the same person we once were, we can remain respectful of the place from which we’ve come, and we can continue to see our lives from more than one single perspective. Change does not have to be equivalent to negation.
For today’s cocktail, I began with Stateside vodka as my base spirit. I added Tozai Snow Maiden saké next, which is a wonderful example of a Japanese rice wine. I then used Giffard’s Blue Curaçao and Suze as secondary spirits whose color gave me just the right shade of bluish-green that I was seeking, but whose flavors also worked remarkably well with the saké. Simple syrup added sweetness and lime juice balanced that sugar with just a bit of acidity. The end result was a cocktail that was both beautiful and flavorful in the same delicate kind of way. I added the white chrysanthemum to the photo because it worked aesthetically, but I was happy to learn that it is also a symbol of the quest for absolute truth. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday! I hope you never look at a dragonfly in quite the same way again.
Add all the ingredients to a shaker tin with ice and shake until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Enjoy!