Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I really like haiku. They seem to offer so much in such a small package.

Haiku is a short Japanese poem of that captures a moment of nature, like a snapshot. They are 3 lines and 6-10 words (in English translations, 17 syllables in Japanese).

Haiku are two observations about nature and a third line that ties them together creating an "Ah!" moment. Here's 3 by Basho, sort of the father of haiku (even though he never wrote haiku!)
Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

~ oOo ~
old pond --
frog jumps in
sound of the water

~ oOo ~

wild sea --
lying over Sado island
the galaxy
The best way to learn to write haiku is by reading it. They're short. They're often amusing. Basho is a great place to begin because he saw the humor in nature.

And then go out in nature and write.

BTW, there's a related form, senryu, that has the same structure as haiku but pokes fun at human nature.
nature captured!
a moment in time
That's in the form of a haiku but not a haiku -- because it's not about nature!

Here's the basic form:
nature image --
nature image
(The -- is a pause or break usually written in English as a -- or ! at the end of the 1st or 2nd line.)

For those who like to know the real rules I've adapted these from the Haiku book mentioned below.
  1. 3 lines of 6-10 words (but, in English, not necessarily 17 syllables)
    In Japanese, haiku have 17 syllables written (in English) in 3 lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. I like rules :-) And 17 syllables arranged in a precise order appeals to the mathematician in me. But Patricia Donegan in Haiku, a children's book about haiku, made a very good point about those 17 syllables. She explains that in Japanese 17 syllables is about 6 words. But in English, 17 syllables is about 12. If you try to write haiku with 17 English syllables it's going to be too bulky. So she suggests 3 lines with 6-10 words total.

  2. Image
    Paint an image, capture a moment. It should be descriptive and appeal to the senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch).

  3. Season word (kigo)
    The first or second line should contain a word relating to the season to help the reader paint a more accurate picture. (There are lists of Kigo course! But you don't need to limit yourself. They can be helpful to get you thinking if your brain gets stalled trying to think what words could represent a season.)

  4. Here and now
    Immediacy. Write about the present moment or a memory, not something you imagine.

  5. Feeling
    Don't explain or tell. Show a feeling through an image. Like:
    cold rain --
    tiny frog sits
    wrapped in mist
    Does it feel lonely? Yet it doesn't need to tell you the frog is lonely. The words paint that impression.

  6. Surprise
    There should be an "Ah!" moment, a surprising insight often about an ordinary event that wakes you up.

  7. Compassion
    Haiku should express openheartedness toward nature.
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