Forms of verse: Haiku
Haiku is a very short non-rhyming form in three lines. A strict haiku contains just 17 syllables, divided into lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.
Characteristics of haiku
- focuses on a specific event or moment: does not generalise
- presents that event in the present, as though it were happening now
- traditionally contains a reference to the natural world (this may be very indirect)
- traditionally contains a seasonal reference (haiku in English often omit this element)
This Imagist poem, inspired by a print of Mount Fuji by the famous Japanese wood-engraver Hokusai, is strongly influenced by haiku style.
Being thirsty,One of the "Hundred Views of Fuji" by Hokusai, by Amy Lowell
I filled a cup with water,
And, behold! Fuji-yama lay upon the water
like a dropped leaf!
History of haiku
The haiku originated in 16th-century Japan. The form began to be imitated by French poets at the start of the 20th century. It quickly came to the attention of the Anglo-American Imagist poets, of whom the best known are Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell.
Like the classical haiku, imagist poetry is characterised by:
- brevity and conciseness
- focus on a single object or scene
- specific, concrete detail
- absence of comment or generalisation
Advice on writing haiku
The aim of the haiku is to make the reader experience the emotion felt by the poet at the event described: not by describing the emotion but by recreating the original event in such a way as to evoke the emotion.
Japanese haiku poets have available to them a number of 'season words' which convention connects with a particular season, and hence also with the world of nature. There is no similar tradition available to English poets. In English haiku, the seasonal reference is often omitted.
Many writers of haiku in English also allow themselves a licence to vary the number of syllables.
The apparent simplicity of the form is deceptive. Good haiku are very hard to write. In a poem so short, not a word, not a syllable can be wasted.
If you think writing haiku seems easy, and you find you are turning them out at a great rate, look critically at your output and ask yourself how good it really is.