The works of Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō in the 17th century and Masaoka Shiki in the 19th century led to the emergence of the hokku – now haiku – as a poetry form.
Haiku is a short verse that contains three lines. Lines 1 and 3 contain five syllables; line 2 contains seven syllables. Haiku poems are usually descriptive word pictures about nature or seasons.
While 17 syllables is the magic number for Japanese haiku, in English it can be simply whatever combination of syllables turns out the best poem in three lines.
But if you want to follow the rules, do it like this…
1. Spotted ladybug— (5)
2. Cute little backyard beetle (7)
3. Munching on aphids. (5)
(Line numbers and syllable counts added for clarification.)
Matsuo Basho was one of the most famous haiku masters in the world. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.
Here is one of Basho’s haikus translated into English:
An old silent pond.
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.
Haiku poems generally do not have titles, nor do they rhyme. They typically include a fragment and a phrase, not a complete sentence.
A shift or turn will occur 1/3 or 2/3 of the way through, juxtaposing two images to focus on a particular moment in time. This pivot point, or kireji, is accomplished with the use of a colon, dash, or ellipsis.
A haiku uses common words, includes concrete images, and recreates a scene from the natural world. This style of poem is meant to convey a certain feeling or sense of place. It can show a balance of nature and humanity, or compare and contrast two images. It can shift from a wide view to a narrow focus, or vice versa.
For more details, see the following infographic designed by Lyla Willingham Lindquist at TweetspeakPoetry.com, where you’ll find the best in poetry and poetic things.
Practice writing a haiku and share it with us! We’d love to see what you come up with!