A haiku is traditionally a Japanese poem consisting of three short lines that do not rhyme. The origins of haiku poems can be traced back as far as the 9th century.
A haiku is considered to be more than a type of poem; it is a way of looking at the physical world and seeing something deeper, like the very nature of existence. It should leave the reader with a strong feeling or impression. Take a look at the following examples of traditional and modern haiku poems to see what we mean.
Traditional Haiku Structure
The structure of a traditional haiku is always the same, including the following features:
There are only three lines, totalling 17 syllables.
The first line is 5 syllables.
The second line is 7 syllables.
The third line is 5 syllables like the first.
Punctuation and capitalization are up to the poet and need not follow the rigid rules used in structuring sentences.
A haiku does not have to rhyme, in fact usually it does not rhyme at all.
It can include the repetition of words or sounds
Are haikus always 5-7-5?
Well, yes and no. In Japanese, yes, haiku is indeed traditionally 5-7-5. … For example, the word “haiku” itself counts as two syllables in English (hi-ku), but three sounds in Japanese (ha-i-ku). This isn’t how “haiku” is said in Japanese, but it is how its sounds are counted.
Joseph R. Mason
Here are two examples of haiku poems from Joseph R. Mason, a particularly bad Haiku poet.
To write a haiku
You need just five syllables
Then seven, then five.
Only three lines long
They are no more and no less
Six is too many.
The most famed traditional Japanese poets include Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masoaka Shiki. They are known as “the Great Four” and their work is still the model for traditional haiku writing today.
Let’s take a look at two of Matsuo Basho’s most famous poems. (Note: The 5-7-5 rhythm has been lost in translation, as not every Japanese word has the same number of syllables, or sounds, as its English version. For example, haiku has two syllables in English. In Japanese, the word has three sounds.)
Here are three examples of haiku poems from Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), considered the greatest haiku poet. Please note the traditional 5-7-5 format has been lost in translation from Japanese to English:
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.
In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus –
A lovely sunset.
Here are three examples of haiku poems from Yosa Buson (1716-1784), a haiku master poet and painter. Please note the traditional 5-7-5 format has been lost in translation from Japanese to English:
A summer river being crossed
with sandals in my hands!
Light of the moon
Moves west, flowers’ shadows
In the moonlight,
The colour and scent of the wisteria
Seems far away.
Here are three examples of haiku from Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), a renowned haiku poet:
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
Trusting the Buddha, good and bad,
I bid farewell
To the departing year.
Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble.
Here are seven examples of haiku poems from Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), credited with reviving the haiku and developing its modern format. Please note the traditional 5-7-5 format has been lost in translation from Japanese to English:
I want to sleep
Swat the flies
a spider, how lonely I feel
in the cold of night!
For love and for hate
I swat a fly and offer it
to an ant.
A mountain village
under the piled-up snow
the sound of water.
Night; and once again,
the while I wait for you, cold wind
turns into rain.
The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.
A lightning flash:
between the forest trees
I have seen water. 🙂
I was born Joseph R. Mason in February sometime in the 1950’s and have a birth certificate to prove it. My birth mother died when I was four days old, I was taken in by an aunt and subsequently adopted. At my adoption I was renamed Richard J. Kirk and I somehow have another birth certificate to prove that! I’m sure that it is not legal to have two birth certificates with different names, but I don’t think the authorities were so fussy in the old days. I write using my birth name because I can, and to honour my parents and birth siblings. My late father, Joseph Walter Mason (28th January 1908 – 24th March 1985), obviously missed out on a really great son, and my immediate siblings, Ann, Fred and Helen, on a superb brother. To give it a happy ending, I am now reunited with my birth siblings.
I am a retired engineer, a member of the leadership team at a large Baptist Church in Eastbourne, East Sussex where I have been a member for over 40 years.
I am married (since 1977) have three grown up children and 4 grandchildren, the eldest being 11 years old.
I write mainly for my own amusement but always in the hope it might also bring pleasure to others.
My books are aimed at children and adults of age 10 to 76½ believing that there is always a gap for fast paced and humorous literature for this age group. The chapters are short, to fit in with bedtime reading and attention span!
My poetry can be more raw, edgy and often exposing. So aimed at a more adult audience.