Mar 8, 2013


Haiku poetry has always been one of my favorite poetic forms to write and to read. There is something immensely satisfying about creating a complete poem from such a small bundle of words. And reading haiku poetry can be such a calming and “Zen” experience; how amazing is it that such precise concepts can be captured in only 17 syllables? 

Haiku poetry originated in Japan over 700 years ago and made its way westward in the late 1800s. In its earliest format, hokku, as it was called, focused on nature, was non-rhyming, and the Japanese symbols were usually written in a single line instead of three separate lines. The hokku consisted of three complete phrases with 5, 7, and 5 on (Japanese sound units) respectively. There was commonly a juxtaposition of two different concepts, with a kireji (basically a verbal punctuation mark) used to designate the separation between the two.*
Here is an example of a Japanese haiku and its English translation, written in the late 1600s by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), who is considered by scholars to be the first great master of the Japanese hokku format. (Notice that the English version does not translate into the 5/7/5 syllable format.)

Old Pond
furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
old pond...
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

Today's "westernized" haiku poetry commonly has three lines which follow a 5/7/5 syllabic structure, and often (but not always) juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated subjects. In the place of a kireji, ellipses or dashes are sometimes used. Modern haiku poetry may not always have nature as its subject, and somtimes has a broader conceptual range than early Japanese hokku. There is also more flexibility in form and structure, as some writers choose to veer from the traditional 17-syllable format.
Here is a haiku I wrote that was published in (the now defunct) Organic Family Magazine in 2007: 

Weeping Willow Tree
Plumed, tender green limbs
drooping, swaying in the wind—
dancer’s curtain call.

Haiku is a concise, accessible poetic form, and is ideal for anyone wanting to try their hand at writing poetry. Aside from the 5/7/5 syllabic blueprint, there are few rules; capitalization and punctuation are left to the author’s discretion, and no subject is off limits. Haiku can be uplifting or depressing, silly or serious, and can reveal the writer’s emotions, experiences, connections, and perceptions in a truly unique way. It is no wonder that it is so popular with poets of all ages!    

*I have presented a very basic history of haiku poetry here. There are also a variety of spellings and explanations of the Japanese elements, so I have included the ones I found most frequently. There are tons of resources online that have much more extensive information about haiku poetry, if you are interested. This is definitely a topic I plan to explore further!


  1. Becky,
    Congratulations on your haiku post. I had a haiku up this week at I like your information on the form.

    1. Thanks so much, Joy! I love your blog! Thanks for sharing the link--I will stop by often! I am so impressed that you have a daily poetry feature. Wow!

  2. Dear Becky,
    When I was teaching fourth and fifth grade, the children loved writing Haiku poetry. Thanks for the great poems and blog post on poetry.

    Celebrate you
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Thank you, Joan! My third graders loved writing haiku poems, too. It is amazing what kids can come up with when they are inspired!

  3. Becky, I just love your haiku that ran in Organic Family Magazine! I don't think I ever saw that, and it is just lovely. We are in the mountains this week and maybe I'll try a haiku to capture my thoughts. Thanks for the post! Diane


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