HAIKU: what is it?

Haiku Structure

  • Only three lines, totaling 17 syllables throughout
  • The first line is only 5 syllables
  • The second line is 7 syllables
  • The third line is 5 syllables like the first
  • Punctuation and capitalization rules are up to the poet, and need not follow rigid rules used in structuring sentences
  • Haiku does not have to rhyme, in fact many times it does not rhyme at all
  • Some haiku can include the repetition of words or sounds

Defining Haiku Poetry

Haiku is a descriptive form of poetry.

Originating in Japan, haiku poetry typically discusses subjects from the natural world, including seasons, months, animals, insects, and even the smallest elements of nature, down to a blade of grass or a drop of dew.

While haiku does not have to only cover natural subject matter, it is most often used as a celebration of nature.

Examples of Haiku Poetry

Originally Written in Japanese

Japanese poets have been writing haiku for centuries. Several are shown below as examples. Note: When these poems were written in Japanese they followed the 5-7-5 syllable rule; however, once they were translated from Japanese into English the number of syllables has changed.

Notsume Soseki, who is commonly referred to as the Charles Dickens of Japan, wrote the following poem in the mid-1300s.

Over the wintry forest,

winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

The poet Basho is well known for his beautiful haiku, such as this one:

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond, splash!

Silence again.

Originally Written in English

One of the most prolific haiku writters was Richard Wright, an African-American novelist. This haiku was contained in the 1990s collection entitled – Haiku: This Other Word:

Whitecaps on the bay;

A broken signboard banging

In the April wind.

Haiku is not designed to read like a sentence, so do not feel bound by normal capitalization and structure rules.


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