Haiku is a brief traditional Japanese poetry, with unrhymed lines. It is known to focus on making a brief comment on a moment about seasons or nature within the author’s environment, creating clear contrasting natural imagery while applying a “cutting word” – “Kireji“.
History of Haiku
As a teacher or tutor, teaching this style of poem successfully, requires you to travel back in time to its origin and understand what it really means, how it came about, the controversies, how it got translated to English language and the changes or applicable rules. Read full history here.
Characteristics of a Haiku Poem
Not every poem about seasons or nature is a Haiku. There are rules and characteristics a poem needs to meet to be characterized as one. However, the traditional form changes a bit in style and rules across different languages, but still maintains an aspect of the traditional form.
- A Haiku is known to maintain a 17 syllables structure termed “On” in Japanese.
- Traditional Haiku is expressed in a single line, while the Haiku in English is usually split into 3 unrhymed lines.
- In the Contemporary English form, it usually contain a style of 5-7-5 line format. The first line should contain 5 syllables, second line 7 syllables and the third line which is the last line also 5 syllables.
- It must be about seasons and nature.
- It must use simple words for easy understanding. Big words make it loose its quality.
- In the Traditional form, it must have a “kireji” – “cutting word”, sometimes in the middle or on the last line as a closure.
- It should evoke vivid imagery.
- It should apply a contemplative tone.
- It should be brief and direct.
Examples of Haiku From the Masters
Here are a few excerpts from the Haiku Masters:
You can observe that these masters maintained some consistency in their poems….they either had a subject matter of a season, nature or weather. And their poems also create vivid images of the moments or situations described.
“A Poppy Blooms” by Katsushika Hokusai
I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms.
“Over the Wintry” by Natsume Sōseki
Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.
“A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa
A world of dew,
And within every dewdrop
A world of struggle.
“The Old Pond” by Matsuo Bashō
An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.
Haiku by Matsuo Bashō reading
yellow mountain roses fall –
sound of the rapids“.
How to Write a Haiku
If you have read up to here, you surely have gotten a great understanding of what a Haiku is and the principles that applies in writing one of yours.
Below are a few simplified guide on how to write a Haiku;
- Decide on the subject matter: Choose whether the poem would be about a season or nature. For example what goes on in your immediate environment or surrounding.
- What type of Haiku to write: Decide whether to stick to the 5-7-5 writing style or if you would want to explore your creativity with a different structure and make an adjustment to the 17 syllables rule.
- Make use of brief phrases: Haiku doesn’t require long phrases. Maximize words, each word should count to achieve a brief and expressive poem. In the Japanese Haiku, the poets make use of popular imagery words that symbolizes seasons. You can apply this in your locality, make use of words that popularly describes or symbolizes seasons, nature, or weather.
- Master to add kireji: Make use of breaks and punctuations to add pauses in the rhythm. You have the freedom to feature this at any preferred section of the poem – middle or as a closure.
- Apply Oxymoron: Introducing oxymoron can simplify creating imagery in a Haiku. Where by you introduce and compare two contrasting ideas as we can see in the earlier given examples from the renowned poets-“Masters”.
How to Prepare Students to Write theirs
Here are simple guides to prepare your students to be able to self-develop their Haiku;
- Teach them to observe nature, seasons and their environment and appreciate them.
- Teach them to pay attention to what goes on in their environment to be able to interpret and describe them.
- Teach them how to be creative and tap into their imaginative senses.
- Teach them the art of creative writing.
- Teach them the principles of Haiku.
Haiku seems simple but might not be the easiest poem style there is. Nothing prepares you for the mastery of this art as much as understanding the history, principles, and developing your creative senses as well as sensitivity to your environment.
Kindly take a minute to share your thoughts about Haiku in the comment section.