How Do I Write A Haiku?

Check out the wonderful and intriguing world of haiku, an ancient form of poetry where a little says a lot!

Ever wonder if there's more to poetry than Shakespeare and Robert Frost? Want to become a poet with only a few words? Look at the wonderful form of poetry called Haiku to meet and thrill you!

Haiku is an unique form of poetry native to Japan, consisting of only three lines. Yes, you read right: only three lines per poem. In addition, there are only seventeen syllables distributed among those three lines, the first line having five, the second seven and the last and final line five syllables.

Created hundreds of years ago to reflect the philosophies of Tao and Buddhism, the haiku forces the writer to use a minimum of imagery and phrasing, creating an image with so little and yet showing so much to the reader.

One famous haiku is below - see how the imagery is conveyed with so few words but still you have a strong image in your mind's eye.

An old pond

a frog jumps in

Sound of water

- Matsuo Basho

Written over three hundred years ago, this is still one of the most popular poems and a wonderful example of how so little can say so much. You can "see" the splash the frog creates and yet there is no overblown description of the pond or of the frog or even the word splash involved. Again, the sparseness of the haiku conveys feelings beyond the written word.

You can write your own haiku right now, if you wish - many poets meditate for hours before beginning their composition, but you can start right now!



First, write three short lines expressing the image you want to show the reader. Don't worry yet about the number of syllables or the phrasing; just express the emotion cleanly and aggressively.

Next, cut out all the excess words. Pare down to the basic noun and verbs of each line and question where the adjectives and adverbs are; do they add or detract from the poem? Do you really need those extra words to convey your emotions, or do they just add extra confusion to the image you're showing the reader?

Don't follow the usual writing rules of similes and metaphors in trying to convey the image, such as "fast as the wind" or other such terms. Slice and edit it down to the bare bones and see what sort of emotion you've managed to send to the reader and how the simplicity of the words chosen provide a stronger mental image than a few paragraphs of full-blown description.

You can start off with something as simple as describing the changing seasons or try to express something as intrinsic as new-found love, but keeping to the 5-7-5 method at all times to create your haiku.

Here are some other examples of famous Japanese haiku - see how they transmit the imagery cleanly and sharply, without additional words and discussion.

The sea at springtime.

All day it rises and falls,

yes, rises and falls.

- Buson

Going deeper

And deeper still

Green Mountains

- Santoka

Like the first haiku, you can see the images the poet is trying to show you without the almost intrusive use of adverbs and adjectives to excess. In the poem about the sea, the repetitive use of "rises and falls" takes you to the seashore and the visual image of the waves rising and falling - but yet the few words give you the image without ever saying the word "waves". The "Green Mountains" referred to in the second haiku are in reference to the rolling green hills of Shikoku, just outside of Matsuyama and a popular and captivating image for all who have seen them. Again, you see the picture in your mind with so few words that it almost seems mystical.

Count the syllables in each line and you'll find both poems as well as the Basho haiku above sticking to the strict rule of 5-7-5 - but yet they are all vibrantly alive and different from each other; each giving images of a scene that we can all visualize and enjoy.

Sit down and start your own haiku, now that you've learnt the basics, There are numerous groups both online and offline that enjoy creating and sharing their poems with each other; awards available for the amateur and professional poet who's looking for a challenge and the thrill of saying so much with so few words. You could be the next great poet! Why not take up the challenge of the haiku?

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