Following are examples of haiku. The first is an example of the traditional form as written by the great master of haiku Matsuo Basho. The second example fits the English form of the 5-7-5 syllable rule.
Traditional haiku often includes a word that denotes the season or it describes nature. Japanese writers do not usually use punctuation marks and instead employ “cutting words” (kireji).
by Matsuo Basho
A frog jumps in
The sound of water
Example 1 (a translation, not great but it fits the mold 5 – 7 – 5):
Behold an old pond
I see a busy frog jump
The water complains
Sometimes the kireji is placed at the end of the haiku to provide a sense of closure. Kobayashi Issa, another great haiku master, wrote this stirring poem with the cutting word (kireji) at the end. When translated into English, Issa’s haiku is 4-7-5 syllables.
Do you think the dewdrop presages the power of the atom?
A World of Dew
by Kobayashi Issa
A world of dew
And within every dewdrop
A world of struggle
Haiku can focus on a moment in time, juxtaposing two images to create a sudden sense of enlightenment. A good example is haiku Master Yosa Buson’s comparison of a single candle with the starry wonderment of the spring sky. This verse is 6-9-3 syllables. The thought is pure haiku.
Lighting One Candle
by Yosa Buson
The light of a candle
Is transferred to another candle
Katsushika Hokusai, a disciple of Basho, wrote the following haiku in which he compares writing a poem to the blooming of a poppy by using the imagery of the spring season to describe his writing process. This is a 6-6-4 verse.
A Poppy Blooms
by Katsushika Hokusai
I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms
Later another Japanese poet, Natsume Soseki, describes the rage the wind feels when it encounters leafless trees. This contrast creates a haunting verse. The first line is unfinished and depends on the first word in the second line to complete the thought. This poem is 5-6-5.
Over the Wintry
by Natsume Soseki
Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow
As the art of haiku traveled west, influential American writers like Ezra Pound tried their hand. “In a Station of the Metro” he describes the underground transit system of Paris. It is considered the first haiku-inspired poem originally written in English.
Although it does not follow the 5-7-5 structure, the poem remains a powerful haiku-like work. Pound believed that superfluous words dulled an image and, thus, the philosophy of haiku suited him as he wrote this two-line 12-7 poem.
In a Station of the Metro
by Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough
Because the structure of the English language is so different from the Japanese, Jack Kerouac is quoted as saying the Western haiku needs to “simply say a lot in three short lines in any language. Above all, haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery, make a little picture and yet be airy and graceful.” (from Thea Voutirtsas)
The Taste of Rain
by Jack Kerouac
Now, it’s your turn to write a haiku. And, please, share your writing with us.
Contributed by: The Editors
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