The three lines of ‘After Killing a Spider’ are a great example of what the haiku form can accomplish. The poem speaks very briefly on a subject that has a great deal of depth. Even though there are only three lines, readers can spend time thinking about a variety of themes, as well as implications, for killing a spider.
Explore After Killing a Spider
After Killing a Spider – Read the Haiku
a spider, how lonely I feel
in the cold of night!Masaoka Shiki
‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki is a haiku that speaks on the value of life and the effects of loneliness.
The speaker spends the three lines of ‘After Killing a Spider’ describing what he felt after killing a spider. It doesn’t improve his situation whatsoever. Instead, he’s left even lonelier than he was, to begin with. This lesson has a great deal to share. Just because a life is small, the poem suggests, doesn’t mean it is without value. By killing the spider, the speaker removed the one companion he had in his loneliness.
Throughout ‘After Killing a Spider,’ the poet engages with themes of the value of life and loneliness. After killing a spider, the speaker is made far lonelier than he was to begin. It seems obvious that prior to the death, he was already feeling the effects of solitude, but after the killing, things are worse. He’s in a state that is “cold” and “dark.” Through the three lines of the poem, it feels as though he’s been there for a while and perhaps doesn’t know the way out.
Structure and Form
‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki is a three-line poem that conforms to the traditional pattern of a haiku. This means that the syllabic pattern of five, seven, five are used. The first line has five syllables, the second seven, and the third has five again. Due to the fact that this poem has been translated from the original Japanese, the pattern is lost. But, the length of the lines is still visually evident. The first and third are closer in length than the second.
Throughout ‘After Killing a Spider,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as two and three. At this point, the reader has to move down to the second and third lines in order to figure out what exactly the poet wants to say.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly memorable descriptions. These usually trigger the reader’s senses in some way. For example, the use of the words “lonely” and “cold of night.” These two states are related to one another and are likely easily imagined by anyone encountering the lines of ‘After Killing a Spider.’ It’s easy to relate one to the next and then to the image of the spider.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in a line. This can appear at the beginning of a line, in the middle, or towards the end. In this case, there is an example in the second line. The comma after “spider” creates a pause near the middle of the line, forcing the reader to stop for a second before continuing. This stands out due to the fact that it is only one of two examples of punctuation in the poem.
In the first line of ‘After Killing a Spider,’ the speaker starts off with a striking two-word introduction to the poem. The first line only reads, “After killing.” Without any additional details, the reader is left to wonder what the speaker is talking about and what exactly was killed. Luckily, it’s easy to move down to the next line and find out. But, before then, the writer’s successfully created a feeling of suspense that’s quite powerful. It helps start the poem out with a certain atmosphere of darkness and regret.
a spider, how lonely I feel
The second line reveals that rather than committing a terrible crime, the speaker has killed a spider. He’s looking back on a time when he killed the creature. It happened in the past, and now he’s considering the effects of his action. There is a good example of juxtaposition between the image of a dead spider and the feeling of loneliness that the speaker confesses to in line two. This is likely an unexpected transition.
At first, it may be confusing why the speaker is relating loneliness to the death of a spider, but with the addition of the third line and reconsidering the poem as a whole, it becomes clear.
in the cold of night!
The final line of the haiku brings in the line “in the cold of night!” The use of an exclamation here emphasizes the experience the speaker is interested in conveying. He’s alone at night, having killed the one creature that could’ve provided some company. He felt it was the right thing to do at the moment, but once it was done, he was even lonelier than he was to begin with.
Readers should consider the atmosphere the speaker is creating with the use of words like “cold of night” and “lonely.” He’s in a dark state of mind and is now filled with regret for a simple action that, in another circumstance, wouldn’t be at all moving.
The tone is one of regret and desperation. The use of the exclamation at the end of the poem makes the speaker sound as though he’s in desperate need of company or of something that can ease his pain.
The meaning is that all life has value and that removing any life from the world has adverse effects. The death of the spider didn’t make the speaker’s situation any better. In fact, he felt worse for losing the only company he had.
Masaoka Shiki likely wrote this poem in order to express feelings of loneliness that he, or someone close to him, experienced. But, it’s impossible to know for sure what the poet was thinking.
It’s unclear who the speaker is. But they’re lonely, dark, and cold. They are, at least for the sake of the poem, by themselves in a state of solitude. It’s unknown why this person is by themselves, but the open-ended scenario allows any reader to imagine themselves as the speaker.
The mood is solemn and considerate. Readers are meant to walk away, reconsidering the value of all life, human or spider—the speaker’s suffering increases due to a violent action he took against another living thing.
Readers who enjoyed ‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki should also consider reading some other haiku poetry. For example:
- ‘The Old Pond’ by Matsuo Bashō – is a famous Japanese haiku that describes the sound of a frog jumping into a pond.
- ‘A Poppy Blooms’ by Katsushika Hokusai – is a thoughtful poem about writing. The poet uses a metaphor to depict how his process works.
- Also, consider exploring Poem Analysis’s list of the best nature poems.