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A short Guide for writing a Haiku

Haiku is a globalized form of poetry which originated in Japan. It was originated in the 19th Century, where it used to be an opening for a lengthier form of Japanese poetry. A man named Masaoka Shiki established Haiku as an independent poetic form.

Up to now, many Haiku artists have spawned from across the world. It’s no longer only composed in Japanese, as countless Haiku have been originally composed (as opposed to being translated from japanese) in English and other languages.

What used to characterize Haiku was its strict pattern of 5-7-5, meaning that the first line consists of five syllables; the second, seven; and the third back to five, with the sum of 17 syllables. Today, non-Japanese Haiku poets are less willing in following the syllable-per-line guidelines, while still maintaining to the rule of the total 17 syllables (even this is not always followed), resulting in a less strict enforcement of these syllabic rules. It’s still the best guideline to making a Haiku, though, and beginners should stick to this rule so they can maintain a relevant and cohesive, while brief content.

Modern poets may agree that what defines a Haiku nowadays is its content over its syllabic pattern, while it’s still important to keep it very brief and laconic (compresses long meanings in few words).

So, what contents are important in a good Haiku?

1. Basic themes

The best Haiku are the ones that a lot of people understand. Thus, it’s best to keep the general theme of a Haiku to the general things that most people can relate to, such as daily occurences and activities. A way to keep these generic themes interesting, is to describe them in a different perspective, as Ron Loeffer had on his Haiku about Christmas:

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

The different perspective on how to see a Christmas tree is can be clearly seen. We also see the first example of a Haiku not following the 5-7-5 rule. Note, though, that the total number of syllables in the Haiku above is 17.

2. Season words

Season words are present in virtually every Haiku. They are basically a word or phrase that represents a particular season, which serves as the setting description in a Haiku. Examples are “Cherry blossom” or “flowers” for Spring, “Beach” or “mosquitoes” for Summer, “snow” for winter, “leaves” for fall, and so on.

 3. Cutting the Haiku

As with the previous rules, this is also an optional, but heavily-followed rule. This is also the most challenging part of Haiku-making. “Cutting” a Haiku means dividing it into two parts, best explained by an example:

 Poverty’s child - he starts to grind the rice, and gazes at the moon. (Basho Matsuo)

Notice the words before and after the dash. In this Haiku, the first part is “Poverty’s child”, and the second is “He starts to grind the rice, and gazes at the moon.” (note that since this is an english translation, it does not maintain the 5-7-5 pattern). In writing a Haiku, anything can be used as a separator, the example above uses a dash. A period, comma, or semicolon can be used with similiar effect. Even a line break is adequate most of the times.

Those are the general guidelines that most Haiku poets follow. Keep in mind that the most important element in a Haiku is its brevity. As long as it’s brief, it can classify as a Haiku. One extreme example of independence from the rules above is a Haiku by H. Nose:

The shadow of a rabbit
Is shining under the moon

For starters, it only consists of two lines, 14 syllables in total, and doesn’t seem to have an apparent season word. Would you classify this as a Haiku? Let us know you opinion and personal view on a good Haiku by leaving a comment.