Although this poem is quite short, it packs a punch. Readers are likely to walk away feeling moved by this simple image—a success in and of itself when one considers the subject matter. Some readers of ‘Broken bowl’ might even find themselves connecting the words and image to events in their everyday life.
Explore broken bowl
‘broken bowl’ by Penny Harter is a short and interesting piece in which the poet describes a broken bowl, with its pieces still rocking.
The three lines describe a broken bowl and its pieces still rocking from the impact on a hard surface. The poem allows the reader to focus on this simple image but also might inspire them to consider what emotional connection it has to everyday life, change, recovery from trauma, and more.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘broken bowl’ by Penny Harter is a three-line poem that should be considered a haiku despite the fact that it does not follow the traditional metrical pattern associated with the form. Traditionally, the haiku follows the pattern of five syllables, or beats, in the first line and last line. Then, there are seven beats in the second line. In this case, Harter gives each line exactly three syllables, creating a very different effect but one that is also interesting to consider.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “broken bowl” in line one.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet breaks off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two, as well as lines two and three. It requires readers to jump down to the next line in order to figure out what happens next.
- Imagery: one of the most important features of this poem. It’s seen when the poet uses evocative and interesting descriptions. For example, the way that all three lines of the poem work together to help readers visualize the central image of the poem.
The first line of the poem, like the second, is only two words long. It reads: “broken bowl,” with no capitalization or punctuation. The line is obviously quite short, with only three syllables. But, it does bring to mind a very clear image, one that is expanded upon in the following lines.
The reader is asked to imagine a broken bowl. With this small amount of detail, one is also forced to fill in the rest. Perhaps, looking back to times that they’ve broken dishes and what it felt and looked like. It’s the poet’s intention that readers are transported to a very specific experience.
The haiku form is one of the best ways to accomplish this. With only a few lines and a few words, one can see and experience something specific. Consider the works of Bashō as an example.
The second line is less interesting than the first, but it does utilize enjambment nicely. The readers are asked not to consider the bowl anymore, but the pieces it’s now in. It feels as though the bowl is breaking in this moment, it’s happening right before the reader’s eyes. The line “the pieces” could bring to mind various sense images, such as the sharp edges of the ceramic or glass or perhaps even sorrow at seeing something in pieces that was once functional and perhaps important.
Readers have to move down to the third and final line to find out how Harter chose to conclude the poem.
The final line is also lacking any punctuation or capitalization. Here, she includes the three-syllable phrase, “broken bowl.” The pieces of the bowl have only just fallen to the floor. They’re still rocking from the impact. Like all the best haiku, this one elevates a very mundane sight and asks readers to consider it in poetic terms. What is beautiful about the sight? And what might there be to learn about it? (Or from it?)
The purpose is to transport readers to a specific experience and inspire them to imagine it using their own experiences. The simple lines require imagination on the reader’s part but are very simply and pleasurably interesting on their own.
The themes in this piece include life and change. In one moment, the bowl is whole, and in the next, it’s broken. It is simple moments of life like this that haiku are quite good at capturing.
The speaker is unknown. It is someone who is thinking about and/or observing a broken bowl. They use simple language, suggesting that they could be any age and from any place.
The meaning is that there is something interesting to be seen and found in every small event. The bowl’s pieces are still rocking as the poem plays out (and there is no end-punctuation to conclude the poem). Life is occurring and changing as the reader is reading.
Similar Haiku Poetry
Readers who enjoyed ‘broken bowl’ should also consider reading some related haiku poems. For example:
- ‘A Poppy Blooms’ by Katsushika Hokusai – a thoughtful poem about writing. The poet uses a metaphor to depict how his process works.
- ‘The Old Pond’ by Matsuo Bashō – deals with an ancient pond and the sound made by a frog that jumps into it.
- ‘In the moonlight’ by Yosa Buson – a Japanese haiku that depicts a night scene filled with the scent of wisteria.