Haiku

Introduction: Japan is a country where many customs, ways of living, sounds, smells, and tastes are different than they are in our country. Hundreds of years ago, the Japanese created an art form – in the shape of a small verse. The verse is haiku (HIGH-koo). In haiku, we share the thoughts, the moods, and the feelings of the Japanese poets. I love Haikus, even though they are very tricky to write! I feel like my skills as poet are always test when I begin to write Haikus.  As the Haiku master, Matsuo Basho once said, “A poet needs to discipline himself every day.”  To write a Haiku you truly need to be disciplined in poetry so make sure you practice!

The Essential Haiku – Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa: To learn about Haikus we will study the work of the three masters of Haku! The book we will read from is called The Essential Haiku – Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa.

A brief history of Haikus:  Haiku grew from an early writing game in which the first three lines of a poem were written by one person. A second person wrote the closing two lines. The great Japanese writer, Basho (1644-94) grew tired of this game. He felt that the first three lines could stand alone. In that way, haiku was born. Haiku comes from a type of Japanese poetry called tanka that was popular and later modifiede during the 9th through 12 centuries. Three great masters of Haiku, Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa have influenced the way Haikus are written since the seventtenth century.  All three Haiku masters were from rural villages and went to the capital of Japan, Edo as Tokyo was then called to learn their art.

The three lines are often arranged so that the first line has five (5) syllables, the second line has seven (7) syllables, and the third line has five (5) syllables. This is called the 5-7-5 rule. Haiku does not always follow the 5-7-5 rule. But to be haiku, the verse must express a thought, feeling or mood. The verse cannot be composed of more than 17 syllables; it cannot have more than 3 lines; and it cannot rhyme.

As you read each verse below, put yourself in the poet’s place – try to share what he or she is feeling. Then share the poem with someone else. You may find that others receive a different image or feel a different mood than you do, all while reading the same words. That is one reason a haiku verse is often accompanied by an illustration.

Here is an example of haiku written by the great Japanese writer Basho.  Ask yourself, what season is it?

This snowy morning
That black crow I hate so much ….
But he’s beautiful!

—Basho

These haiku verses were written by kids.  
As you read these, ask yourself, “What season is it?”

We could hear the trees …
As we went through the forest
Play with the wind
—Roger, age 10

A castle standing
On a hill boldly watching
The time goes on …. on
—Therese, age 11

The above examples of haiku verse, written by Basho, Roger, and Therese, can be compared in many ways. For one thing, they all follow the 5-7-5 rule. Another way to compare them is by looking at their use of seasons. Using nature to express a mood or image is at the heart of haiku. All three of these verses use nature or the natural movement of things to express their thoughts. Basho’s verse takes place in the winter, which gives the black crow against the white snow its beauty. Roger’s verse is probably set in the summer or perhaps in the fall, when leaves are on the trees. Therese’s verse is more timeless – it flows through many seasons, while keeping itself aloof.

“Having few words and pausing at the end of each short line gives a special feeling to haiku. Even a simple statement sounds thoughtful—as though it has a deeper meaning.”  Here is dialogue from Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, and presented it as if it were haiku. By taking a sentence out of context, and putting it into haiku form, they were able to easily change a simple comment into a thoughtful statement.

How many times will
We be able to witness
A dragon hatching?
—Ron Weasley

How To write haiku:

  1. First, get a picture in your mind of a thing or a person that made you angry or sad or happy or glad – “Or maybe you think … A blanket wrapped around you … By someone you Love” – can be made into haiku.

  2. Write down your image using 10 to 15 words. Then put it into the 5-7-5 form.

  3. Try to make others see your picture or idea.

  4. An illustration of what you are trying to express might help.


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