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Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on Haiku

I've been somewhat aware that most English haiku is actually termed "Senryu" by the purists. The Japanese masters count the sounds, not the syllables, and always include a seasonal word.

Whatever it's called, it's both a puzzle and a writing challenge to compose. Here's a brief explanation:

Haiku Poetry (from

History and Explanation of Haiku

Haiku is a major type of Japanese poetry. Haiku is related to a more ancient form of Japanes poetry called 'hokku', but given its current name by Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century. The name was suggested as an abbreviation of the phrase "haikai no ku" meaning a verse of haikai.

Traditionally haikai is written as one line vertical line, although handwritten form may be in any number of lines. In English, haiku is generally written in three lines to equate to the three parts of a haiku in Japanese that consists of five, seven and then five on (the Japanese count sounds, not syllables). For example, the word 'haiku' contains three "on" (ha-i-ku), but two syllables in English. So producing a poem with seventeen syllables in English is considerably longer than the traditional haiku. (Many purists reject English haiku.)

In Japanese haiku, a kireji (cutting word) is used at the end of one of the three lines. In Japanese there are actual kireji words which act as punctuation, e.g. 'ya' in Bashō's "furuike ya" poem. Since there is no English equivalent to the kireji, other forms of punctuation are used, e.g. comma, colon, ellipses, etc. These "punctuations" are generally used at the end of the first or second line and very rarely found in the middle of the second line. The purpose is to create a relationship between the two parts.

A traditional haiku contains a kigo (season word) that symbolises the season in which the poem is set.

Most Japanese haiku writers see kireji and kigo as non-negotiable requirements. Although many believe kigo are considered essential to traditional haiku, new forms are being implemented without their use. These are called "free-form" haiku.

A similar form of Japanese poetry is the Senryū. The poems contain three lines with 17 or fewer "on" and tend to be about human foibles. They are often cynical or contain dark humor. Senryū do not need to include kigo, unlike most haiku.

Many who claim they write haiku are in fact writing a whole other style. One style which is generally confused as haiku is cinquain. Cinquain, although closely related to haiku, consists of five lines instead of three. Cinquain is also written about an object and/or person and not nature specifically.
In order to write a true haiku poem, it must consist of three lines with five morae in the first, seven in the second while the third and line consists of again five morae. The poem must also be somehow related to nature, while using few words and expressing great emotion.

An example of syllable haiku is:
Blackened evening sky
Moon shifts across the darkness
Waiting for the sun

However, it is not a traditional haiku. Darkness alone only has 4 morae (da-rk-ne-ss).

The World's Most Famous Haiku is by the Japanese Master, Basho. He lived in the 17th century. Most call it "Frog Haiku".

In Japanese, it meets all the classic requirements for haiku. However, there are over 30 translations to English, some of which DON'T meet a 17 syllable (5-7-5 format). Here's my favorite translation:

Frog Haiku

The old pond is still

a frog leaps right into it

splashing the water

~ Translated by Earl Miner and Hiroko Odagiri

Here's a favorite of mine that uses 5-7-5 SYLLABLES... its from a larger poem, called a renku, and it is by Ferris Gilli:

chandelier swinging

as our loud boogie woogie

rattles the crystal

I guess the lesson is... do you need to follow the rules, (and in Japanese, or English..?) or just have fun with the form....?

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Wow! I had no idea there were so many rules and regulations!

I think I'll just stick with having fun with it.

Oh...and I loved the Frog Haiku (and the picture you used)!