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Haiku Definition

Definition

[n] an epigrammatic Japanese verse form of three short lines

Haiku is a type of poem used to deliver simplistic and imagery-filled information using the fewest words possible. A poet can use any one of the many different short forms of poetry to convey this unique message, but the Haiku is the most popular. Before composing a poem like Haiku, you should know about its history, format, and famous poets who used this form of poetry.

While this ancient Japanese poetry can be overwhelming for first-timers, we hope this definition and example will help you understand Haiku and how to write a haiku successfully.

How to write a Haiku

Definition of a Haiku

A Haiku is a type of Japanese poetic form with seventeen syllables that are separated into three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. The name Haiku, pronounced as Hahy-Koo, is derived from hokku, a Japanese word which means 'starting verse.' Haiku poems focus on intensity, simplicity, and directness of expression to invoke the reader's emotional feelings.

Format and Rules for Writing Haiku Poems

The guidelines for writing an English Haiku poem can be found in three main features that are as follows.

The 5-7-5 structure

The 5-7-5 structure is the most popular and distinctive feature of a Haiku poem. While expressing your emotions or a favorite image, you need to understand the basic rules. Owing to the differences in Japanese and English concepts of syllables, poets should be careful when using the Haiku format. In exceptional cases, this rule can be broken by poets that seek to deliver an artistic effect over incompetence.

First line = 5 syllables
Second line = 7 syllables
Third line = 5 syllables

It is important to know that in Japanese, the syllables are restricted in that each syllable must have three sound units (sound-components formed of a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant). The three unit-rule is usually ignored in English haiku since English syllables vary in size much more than in Japanese.

Also, keep in mind that some famous Haiku poets like American novelist Jack Kerouac state that a haiku doesn't need to be written in the tedious 5–7–5 syllable count, or even in a three-line format. 

Seasonal elements

Their intense focus on seasons can identify haiku poems. A single word is used to determine the time of composure. One may use words that define summer, winter, fall, or spring. Every poet needs to consider the specific terms that can be used; for instance, cold refers to winter, Wisteria is summer, cherry blossoms are for the spring, while the moon is for fall.

A ‘Cutting’ Word

The use of a cutting word, kireji, is one of the hardest rules because it is difficult to define. It is a word that leaves the Haiku open for the reader to complete. It cuts the stream of thought and suggests a link to something that follows. A ‘cutting’ word is easier to understand when you consider that Haiku developed from the introduction or start of another, longer, form of poetry.

 You should use a cutting word to create a pause in the rhythm of a Haiku poem while juxtaposing two images. A kireji plays the role of punctuation to make the poem more appealing.

Origin and History of Haiku

To understand the history of Haiku, it is good to know a little about its predecessors, the hokku and haikai renga (or renku). Why, because the Haiku form of poetry was developed from another poetic form known as Rengu, popular in the 13th and 14th centuries. Rengu is longer and contains back and forth lines that are composed by two poets. The poems open with a hokku (opening stanza of a collaborative linked poem), setting the tone by identifying the season.

In the seventeenth century, Matsu Basho developed and popularized haikai, a more relaxed and comical form of Rengu. This form of poetry was named Haiku in the 19th century as it grew to receive identification as a fully independent form of poetry.

Haiku developed and started a gradual spread to other parts of the world. It spread to France and the Netherlands before moving to North America. The poetry spread further to different parts of the world while attracting the attention of scholars speaking different languages.

Famous Haiku Poems

These are two of the most popular Haiku poems

To a Leg of Heron - By Basho

To a leg of a heron
Adding a long shank
Of a pheasant.

This is a perfect example of a Haiku poem composed by one of the best Chinese poets that contributed to the development of Haiku. The theme of this poem is self-ridicule. The piece uses an amusing and ironic touch without forgetting to deliver the feeling of reality.

Book of Haikus - Jack Kerouac

Snow in my shoe 
Abandoned
Sparrow's nest

The poet does NOT use the format of 5-7-5 syllables. Kerouac refers to the Japanese idea that the Haiku should be expressed in one breath. In English, that usually means the poem will be 10 to 14 syllables long. However, he still presents a short and detailed story. The first part presents an image and representation of the season. Going forth, the second part is about nature. The two contrasting ideas mingle with one another in harmony.

Famous Poets Who Wrote Haiku

Some of the most prominent Haiku poets include:

Matsuo Basho

Basho is one of the most important Haiku poets from the native land of this type of art. Basho is a well-renowned poet and poetry teacher that was passionate about his job. He inspired a good number of disciples that carried on his work after he passed away in 1694.

Yosa Buson

Yosa Buson is also known as one of the best Haiku pets, having learned the art from Matsuo Basho. He organized poetry gatherings that were used to popularize the works of Basho. The style of Yosa Buson paints the picture, is more subjective, and brilliant.

With the information and guidelines highlighted above, you can comfortably write your first Haiku poem. While writing your piece, remember that the poem is composed of realistic and objective purposes while targeting an audience of all ages.

Example

An example of classic hokku by Bashô:

an old pond—
the sound of a frog jumping
into water


Another Bashô classic:

the first cold shower;
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw.


BLACKBIRD HAIKU

beautiful blackbird

chirruping the sweetest songs

morning has broken

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See Also...

poem, verse form