The Haiku Thread

December 9, 2005

What is Haiku?

Haiku is one of the most important form of traditional japanese poetry. Haiku is, today, a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Since early days, there has been confusion between the three related terms Haiku, Hokku and Haikai. The term hokku literally means “starting verse”, and was the first starting link of a much longer chain of verses known as haika. Because the hokku set the tone for the rest of the poetic chain, it enjoyed a privileged position in haikai poetry, and it was not uncommon for a poet to compose a hokku by itself without following up with the rest of the chain.
Largely through the efforts of Masaoka Shiki, this independence was formally established in the 1890s through the creation of the term haiku. This new form of poetry was to be written, read and understood as an independent poem, complete in itself, rather than part of a longer chain.
Strictly speaking, then, the history of haiku begins only in the last years of the 19th century. The famous verses of such Edo-period (1600-1868) masters as Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa are properly referred to as hokku and must be placed in the perspective of the history of haikai even though they are now generally read as independent haiku. In HAIKU for PEOPLE, both terms will be treated equally! The distinction between hokku and haiku can be handled
by using the terms Classical Haiku and Modern Haiku.

Modern Haiku.

The history of the modern haiku dates from Masaoka Shiki’s reform, begun in 1892, which established haiku as a new independent poetic form. Shiki’s reform did not change two traditional elements of haiku: the division of 17 syllables into three groups of 5, 7, and 5 syllables and the inclusion of a seasonal theme.
Kawahigashi Hekigoto carried Shiki’s reform further with two proposals:

1. Haiku would be truer to reality if there were no center of interest in it.
2. The importance of the poet’s first impression, just as it was, of subjects taken
from daily life, and of local colour to create freshness.

How to write Haiku ?

In japanese, the rules for how to write Haiku are clear, and will not be discussed here. In foreign languages, there exist NO consensus in how to write Haiku-poems. Anyway, let’s take a look at the basic knowledge:

What to write about?

Haiku-poems can describe almost anything, but you seldom find themes which are too complicated for normal PEOPLE’s recognition and understanding. Some of the most thrilling Haiku-poems describe daily situations in a way that gives the reader a brand new experience of a well-known situation.

The metrical pattern of Haiku.

Haiku-poems consist of respectively 5, 7 and 5 syllables in three units. In japanese, this convention is a must, but in english, which has variation in the length of syllables, this can sometimes be difficult.

The technique of cutting.

The cutting divides the Haiku into two parts, with a certain imaginative distance between the two sections, but the two sections must remain, to a degree, independent of each other. Both sections must enrich the understanding of the other.
To make this cutting in english, either the first or the second line ends normally with a colon, long dash or ellipsis.

The seasonal theme.

Each Haiku must contain a kigo, a season word, which indicate in which season the Haiku is set. For example, cherry blossoms indicate spring, snow indicate winter, and mosquitoes indicate summer, but the season word isn’t always that obvious.

Please notice that Haiku-poems are written under different rules and in many languages. For translated Haiku-poems, the translator must decide whether he should obey the rules strictly, or if he should present the exact essence of the Haiku. For Haiku-poems originally written in english, the poet should be more careful. These are the difficulties, and the pleasure of Haiku.

Haiku’s From The Masters :

Akutagawa, Ryunosuke. (1892-1927)

Without flowing wine
How to enjoy lovely
Cherry blossoms?

Basho, Matsuo. (1644-1694).

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.

Issa. (1762-1826).

Right at my feet –
and when did you get here,
snail?

Murakami, Kijo. (1865-1938).

The moment two bubbles
are united, they both vanish.
A lotus blooms.

Post your own haiku below here: Comments.

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2 Responses to “The Haiku Thread”

  1. 20 box Says:

    Let’s play haiku game.

    I begin:

    Long cold nights –
    Inside a perfect 20box
    Anando Rocks

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Outside and Inside-
    A perfect six-sided heart,
    20 empty box.


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