Poetry takes many different forms, and this is one that might not be as familiar as others.
A Haiku, or a Hokku as it can be known, is a Japanese poem that can be based on many themes, from love to nature. The Haiku has since been adapted for English and many famous authors have tried their hand at this short poem.
It usually contains a total of 17 syllables shared between three lines, arranged in a pattern of 5-7-5. The fist line consists of 5 syllables, the second line 7, and the last line another 5 syllables.
Originally, in Japanese, Haiku poetry was measured in sounds, or “breaths,” not English syllables. The 5-7-5 approach was a rough approximation to get the same feel as the traditional Japanese poems. The 5-7-5 form is still popular today and many poets still embrace the framework.
Haikus were originally Japanese poems (Source: Visualhunt)
Here’s a bullet-point guide to the main characteristics of Haiku poetry
Haiku poems don’t need to rhyme but some poets do try to rhyme lines 1 and 3, this is quite the challenge considering it is such a short poem!
Traditional haiku focuses on two simple subjects while giving an unexpected perspective. Much like a joke, the first part of haiku can often serve as the set-up, while the second part delivers the punchline.
Here’s an example from the Japanese poet Murakami Kijo (1865 – 1938):
First autumn morning:
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.
In Kijo’s example we can see that it follows the rules we explained above: two simple subjects, punctuation separating the lines, a reference to Autumn and the unusual perspective in the ending.
There has been some debate on the form of Haiku. Some modern poets are purists and reject the 5-7-5 structure preferring the shorter Japanese originals which were supposed to be spoken in one breath.
Whether you choose to side with the traditionalists or the more modern 5-7-5, haiku is an amazing art form. While a child can understand the very basics of format and structure, truly mastering it can take a lifetime. Come as you are, get comfortable and join us as we continue to work on our craft together!
Here are some typical features of Haiku to help you spot one or to help write one yourself:
Here are famous Haikus for you to enjoy. See if you can spot the typical characteristics of seasons and surprising endings:
Haiku by Jack Kerouac
The low yellow
moon above the
quiet lamplit house
Matsuo Basho is one of the most prolific Haiku writers. He wrote over 1000 Haiku poems in his lifetime. His “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is the most famous collection of Haikus in Japan. His poems were originally written in Japanese and have been translated to English for us all to enjoy, here are a few for you to read:
In the Twilight Rain
by Matsuo Basho
In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus . . .
A lovely sunset
By Matsuo Basho
of the peony.
By Matsuo Basho
this deep in fall –
still not a butterfly
This poet decided to change the Haiku format altogether writing his poem Distressed Haiku over 25 lines rather than 3! But we can still see some of the other characteristics of Haiku so we think it still counts, what do you think?
Distressed Haiku – Poem by Donald Hall
In a week or ten days
the snow and ice
will melt from Cemetery Road.
I’m coming! Don’t move!
Once again it is April.
Today is the day
we would have been married
I finished with April
halfway through March.
You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.
Then they stay dead.
Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?
In April the blue
from white to green.
The Boston Red Sox win
a hundred straight games.
The mouse rips
the throat of the lion
and the dead return.
Going out into nature can help give you inspiration (Source: Visualhunt)
Now it’s your turn. We’ve given you the Haiku basics and some examples for inspiration. See if you can write your own Haiku.
If you can’t go outside for a walk in an area with nature, try looking at nature photographs and art in books or online. Find a particular nature scene or object in nature like a tree or flower that inspires you.
Choose a person or object as your subject. Haikus do not all have to be about nature or the seasons. You can also choose a particular person or object as inspiration for the poem. Maybe you want to write a funny haiku about your dog. Or perhaps you want to write a thoughtful haiku about your childhood toy.
Read examples of a haiku. To get a better sense of the genre, read haikus that are well known and considered good examples of the form. You can find examples in books or online. Read haikus that are about nature and other subjects.
Once you’ve got your inspiration you can finally get writing, here are our tips:
Now you’re fully equipped to write your own Haiku! Happy writing!
Don’t forget, if you need help with your writing skills you’ll find a Superprof tutor to suit you. Each lesson will be adapted to your needs, whether you want to write a Haiku, a novel or just brush up on your essay skills for an exam. Superprof have tutors all over, so wherever you live, you’ll find the right one for you!