Haiku is a short form of poetry. It originated in Japan as the opening stanza in a longer collaborative linked poem. By the 17th century master poets began writing haiku as independent, standalone poems. These poems were often written by samurai. Matsuo Basho was the most famous poet of his time. He was a teacher descended from samurai.
Haiku are very short, very structured poems. But don’t be fooled. Short does not necessarily mean simple. Haiku are 3 lines long and each line has a set number of syllables. The traditional haiku poems are only 17 syllables long. Each line in a haiku follows this pattern of syllables:
- Line 1 — 5 syllables
- Line 2– 7 syllables
- Line 3– 5 syllables
This is possibly the most famous haiku:
There are many translations to English of this haiku; in one book there are more than 100! We chose this one:
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
–Basho 1644-1694, translated by Harry Behn
The subject of haiku is usually focused on creating a mood, recreating a feeling, or describing nature and natural occurrences. By definition, all poetry is measured and condensed. Poets spend hours deciding just the right verb or adjective to bring an image to life. They often use juxtaposition as a strategy to show differences and similarities in two separate things. English haiku appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. They usually follow the same structure as traditional haiku.
5 syllable — Why did this spring wood
7 syllables– Grow so silent when I came?
5 syllables– What was happening?
–Richard Wright 1908-1960
Haiku may be the most restricted type of poetry, and so precision (think about the difference between these words and how they could affect your haiku: ball, sphere, globe) in word choice is vital. But if you are studying English and your vocabulary is still growing, writing poetry does not have to be a challenge!
If you want to try your hand at writing haiku, you do not have to be a samurai and you don’t have to spend hours thinking of the perfect word. You can use an online haiku generator! After you get the feel for the form, then you can try some of your own. You might even learn some new vocabulary along your poetic journey.
Try these for some cyber support:
Watch this video to help you write a haiku for Saint George’s Day
Leave your haiku below in the comments!
Standalone: (adjective) this means that it is independent, and can stand alone
Pond: (noun) this is a small body of freshwater
try your hand: this means “try” or “attempt.”