Being a pen pal may sound a simple task, but…
Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, short in length with no rhymes, and often with a strong focus on nature. Due to their compactness, haiku poems can be fun to write, whatever your writing and poetry skills; whether you are a published poet or a complete novice. Haiku poetry can also be delightfully mindful, meditative and reflective to write. Why not give it a go?
Originating in Japan in the 7th century, the original subject matter of haiku was often prayers, celebration, and harvesting. Later the subject matter shifted to nature, and this has been carried through to modern haiku.
- Traditionally, haiku poems are composed of three lines and 17 syllables: five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line.
- The subject is often nature.
- There is no title to these poems.
- The time of year is often hinted at through the use of language – for example, ice might be mentioned for winter or blossom for spring.
- Haiku poems are often divided into two parts, with the relationship between the two parts often being surprising.
- Haiku poems are descriptive: trying to evoke in the reader the same emotions felt by the writer when they had a particular experience or viewed a scene.
- Think about the senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing when writing your haiku.
- Use small details to describe the bigger picture.
- Haiku poems don’t usually include metaphors or similes.
- Haiku poems don’t rhyme.
Examples of traditional haiku
Matsuo Bashō, a popular Japanese poet, composed these haiku poems in the late 1600s:
In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus –
A lovely sunset.
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.
Kobayashi Issa, a renowned haiku poet in the late 1700s and early 1800s, wrote these:
Trusting the Buddha, good and bad,
I bid farewell
To the departing year.
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble.
20th century haiku
Many modern western poets have moved away from the traditional 17 syllable (5,7,5) formation when writing haiku poems, but they have kept other rules, such as the nature theme and the idea of capturing a moment in time. Here are a couple of examples:
a gentle wave
wets our sandals
– Michael Dylan Welch
in the dark
– Rainy dawn.
– Jack Kerouac
Do you prefer traditional or modern haiku?
Please do add your own haiku poems in the comments below; I’d love to read them!