[Bards] Haiku

willowjonbardc at juno.com willowjonbardc at juno.com
Thu May 19 23:09:58 PDT 2005

since 1995.

What is Haiku?

Haiku is one of the most important form of traditional japanese poetry. Haiku is, today, a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Since early days, there has been confusion between the three related terms Haiku, Hokku and Haikai. The term hokku literally means "starting verse", and was the first starting link of a much longer chain of verses known as haika. Because the hokku set the tone for the rest of the poetic chain, it enjoyed a privileged position in haikai poetry, and it was not uncommon for a poet to compose a hokku by itself without following up with the rest of the chain.
Largely through the efforts of Masaoka Shiki, this independence was formally established in the 1890s through the creation of the term haiku. This new form of poetry was to be written, read and understood as an independent poem, complete in itself, rather than part of a longer chain.
Strictly speaking, then, the history of haiku begins only in the last years of the 19th century. The famous verses of such Edo-period (1600-1868) masters as Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa are properly referred to as hokku and must be placed in the perspective of the history of haikai even though they are now generally read as independent haiku. In HAIKU for PEOPLE, both terms will be treated equally! The distinction between hokku and haiku can be handled
by using the terms Classical Haiku and Modern Haiku.

Modern Haiku.
The history of the modern haiku dates from Masaoka Shiki's reform, begun in 1892, which established haiku as a new independent poetic form. Shiki's reform did not change two traditional elements of haiku: the division of 17 syllables into three groups of 5, 7, and 5 syllables and the inclusion of a seasonal theme.
Kawahigashi Hekigoto carried Shiki's reform further with two proposals:

Haiku would be truer to reality if there were no center of interest in it. 
The importance of the poet's first impression, just as it was, of subjects taken
from daily life, and of local colour to create freshness.



How to write Haiku

In japanese, the rules for how to write Haiku are clear, and will not be discussed here. In foreign languages, there exist NO consensus in how to write Haiku-poems. Anyway, let's take a look at the basic knowledge:

What to write about?

Haiku-poems can describe almost anything, but you seldom find themes which are too complicated for normal PEOPLE's recognition and understanding. Some of the most thrilling Haiku-poems describe daily situations in a way that gives the reader a brand new experience of a well-known situation.

The metrical pattern of Haiku

Haiku-poems consist of respectively 5, 7 and 5 syllables in three units. In japanese, this convention is a must, but in english, which has variation in the length of syllables, this can sometimes be difficult.

The technique of cutting

The cutting divides the Haiku into two parts, with a certain imaginative distance between the two sections, but the two sections must remain, to a degree, independent of each other. Both sections must enrich the understanding of the other.
To make this cutting in english, either the first or the second line ends normally with a colon, long dash or ellipsis.

The seasonal theme.

Each Haiku must contain a kigo, a season word, which indicate in which season the Haiku is set. For example, cherry blossoms indicate spring, snow indicate winter, and mosquitoes indicate summer, but the season word isn't always that obvious.

Please notice that Haiku-poems are written under different rules and in many languages. For translated Haiku-poems, the translator must decide whether he should obey the rules strictly, or if he should present the exact essence of the Haiku. For Haiku-poems originally written in english, the poet should be more careful. These are the difficulties, and the pleasure of Haiku. 



Akutagawa, Ryunosuke. (1892-1927).
Akutagawa wrote "Rashomon", "The Nose", "The Handkerchief", "Hell Screen ", "Flatcar" and "Kappa". He didn't start writing Haiku before 1919, under the pseudonym Gaki.
Akutagawa biography
Akutagawa books at amazon 

Green frog,
Is your body also
freshly painted?

Sick and feverish
Glimpse of cherry blossoms
Still shivering.



Without flowing wine
How to enjoy lovely
Cherry blossoms?


Basho, Matsuo. (1644-1694).
The name Bashó (banana tree) is a sobriquet he adopted around 1681 after moving into a hut with a banana tree alongside. He was called Kinsaku in childhood and Matsuo Munefusa in his later days.
Basho's father was a low-ranking samurai from the Iga Province. To be a samurai, Basho serviced for the local lord Todo Yoshitada (Sengin). Since Yoshitada was fond of writing haikai, Basho began writing poetry under the name Sobo.
During the years, Basho made many travels through Japan, and one of the most famous went to the north, where he wrote Oku No Hosomichi (1694). On his last trip, he died in Osaka, and his last haiku indicates that he was still thinking of traveling and writing poetry as he lay dying: 
Fallen sick on a journey,
In dreams I run wildly
Over a withered moor.

At the time of his death, Basho had more than 2000 students.

An old pond!
A frog jumps in-
The sound of water.

The first soft snow!
Enough to bend the leaves
Of the jonquil low.

In the cicada's cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.

In all the rains of May
there is one thing not hidden -
the bridge at Seta Bay.

The years first day
thoughts and loneliness;
the autumn dusk is here.

Clouds appear
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Harvest moon:
around the pond I wander
and the night is gone.

Poverty's child -
he starts to grind the rice,
and gazes at the moon.

No blossoms and no moon,
and he is drinking sake
all alone!

Won't you come and see
loneliness? Just one leaf
from the kiri tree.

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!


Buson, Yosa. (1716-84). 

At the over-matured sushi,
The Master
Is full of regret.

Pressing Sushi;
After a while,
A lonely feeling

A whale!
Down it goes, and more and more
up goes its tail!



Covered with the flowers,
Instantly I'd like to die
In this dream of ours!



No sky
no earth - but still
snowflakes fall


Issa. (1762-1826).
Yoshi Mikami's Issa's Haiku Home Page
Issa books at Amazon 

In my old home
which I forsook, the cherries
are in bloom.

A giant firefly:
that way, this way, that way, this -
and it passes by.

Right at my feet -
and when did you get here,

My grumbling wife -
if only she were here!
This moon tonight...

A lovely thing to see:
through the paper window's hole,
the Galaxy.

A man, just one -
also a fly, just one -
in the huge drawing room.

A sudden shower falls -
and naked I am riding
on a naked horse!


Kato, Shuson

I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.


Kawahigashi, Hekigodo. (1873-1937).

>From a bathing tub
I throw water into the lake -
slight muddiness appears.



Night, and the moon!
My neighbor, playing on his flute -
out of tune!


Murakami, Kijo. (1865-1938).

First autumn morning:
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face.

The moment two bubbles
are united, they both vanish.
A lotus blooms.


Natsume, Soseki. (1867-1916)
Soseki's debut came in 1905 with "I Am a Cat ". In 1907 he resigned his post at
Tokyo University as Professor in English, to devote his entire time to the writing of
novels. His writings include "The Three-Cornered World" (1906), "The Wayfarer" (1912-13)
"Kokoro " (1914), and "The Grass on the Wayside" (1915).

On New Year's Day
I long to meet my parents
as they were before my birth.

The crow has flown away:
swaying in the evening sun,
a leafless tree.



You rice-field maidens!
The only things not muddy
Are the songs you sing.


Ryusui. (1691-1758).

In all this cool
is the moon also sleeping?
There, in the pool?


Shiki, Masaoka. (1867-1902).

I want to sleep
Swat the flies
Softly, please.

After killing
a spider, how lonely I feel
in the cold of night!

For love and for hate
I swat a fly and offer it
to an ant.

A mountain village
under the pilled-up snow
the sound of water.

Night; and once again,
the while I wait for you, cold wind
turns into rain.

The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.

A lightning flash:
between the forest trees
I have seen water.


Takahama, Kyoshi

A dead chrysanthemum
and yet - isn't there still something
remaining in it?

He says a word,
and I say a word - autumn
is deepening.

The winds that blows -
ask them, which leaf on the tree
will be next to go.

A gold bug -
I hurl into the darkness
and feel the depth of night.


Morten Paulsen (MOPA95AB at prelux.cbs.dk):

An island song
Like a floating river
Rain Rain Fall Fall




Ron Loeffler 

Glass balls and glowing lights.
Dead tree in living room.
Killed to honor birth. 



Andeyev, Alexey V. (alexey at cerc.wvu.edu):

Spring backup in CS lab:
time to fall in love with
certain humanware. 
Ed \"Darts Vapor\" Button 

alone, on the web,
drops of sensitivity
embrace an eyelash 
Chris Spruck 

Faceless, just numbered.
Lone pixel in the bitmap-
I, anonymous. 



Dave McCroskey. (mccroskeyd at hal.hahnemann.edu):

on the Chinese vase
flowers retain brightness
- - pouring out water.




Paulsen, Morten: 

Sushi and Soya
The Spring comes
When the day is over


Thomas Grieg 

Pond with ice

Looking at the clouds
blue in the ice-wind
space flows 

Quiet around the point: ducks;
up down birches

Darkended dreams
become modern grapes of wrath
reaping a bitter wine. 



Dhugal Lindsay. (dhugal at ori.u-tokyo.ac.jp):

they've gone...
where the beach umbrella was
the sand not quite so hot

Paul Mena: 

through the fingerprints
on my window-
cloudless blue sky. 
John. (JThomp7102 at aol.com): 

Deserted steel-mill.
Along the Ohio River,
Chromatic butterfly. 

James Dolan. (james.dolan at mindspring.com): 

Dallas summer song:
cicadas whir, the
sirens call 




Phil Wahl 

The flap of a bat,
drip drip of monsoon waters.
Ancient image stares. 
Noel Kaufmann 

Behold the ego
Set in glowing emptiness
On the edge of time 


Urban Haiku

Michael R. Collings mcolling at pepperdine.edu):

Silence--a strangled
Telephone has forgotten
That it should ring

Freeway overpass--
Blossoms in grafitti on
fog-wrapped June mornings




Dave McCroskey. (mccroskeyd at hal.hahnemann.edu):

the morning paper
harbinger of good and ill
- - I step over it



Links to other Haiku-pages:

Haiku books at Amazon 
Dogwood Blossoms: Online Journal of Haiku 
The art of Haiku-Poetry. 
The SPAM haiku archive 
AHA!POETRY's Haiku-page 
Bob Zimmerman's own haiku-poems 
Le site-anthologie haïku 
CAQUI uma revista de haicai (in portuguese) 
Yoshi Mikami's Issa's Haiku Home Page 




- Makoto Ueda ( Modern Japanese Haiku -An Anthology: 1976).
- Kodansha (Encyclopedia of Japan: 1983).
- Kenneth Yasuda (The JAPANESE HAIKU: 1957).
- Harold G. Henderson (An introduction to HAIKU: 1958).
- Daniel C. Buchanan (One hundred Famous HAIKU: 1973).
- Other haiku books


Feel free to use anything from this page as long as you make references to HAIKU for PEOPLE
Last updated: Jan 10th. 2001. Editor: Kei Grieg Toyomasu kei at toyomasu.com 

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