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4 Facts of Haiku Poetry


The haiku is a short, pithy poem, simple enough for even children to imitate. The haiku does not traditionally contain complex literary devices, such as metaphor or symbolism; nor is it traditionally intended for discussion, as Western literary scholars like to perform on literature. Instead, a haiku simply offers a reader a sensual experience to enjoy, such as "Evening" by James Kirkup:

In the amber dusk

Each island dreams its own night---

The sea swarms with gold.

Fact 1: Haiku Originated in Japan

The haiku is a fairly new style of Japanese poetry. Haiku became popular in the 17th and 18th century through such poets as Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki, the latter coined the term "haiku." Basho especially influenced the haiku form. Throughout his life, Basho alternated between living in isolation and traveling widely around Japan. In his isolation, Basho practiced Zen meditation. The haiku form evolved from these experiences of pondering both inward spirituality and the world around him.

Fact 2: Haiku Follows a Structure

The haiku's structure follows one line of five syllables, one line of seven syllables and one line of five syllables again, for a total of 17 syllables. Syllable rules for the haiku are even stricter in Japanese, but in English, writers normally follow the 5/7/5 pattern. The haiku does not posses any rhyme scheme.

Fact 3: Haiku Uses Minimalist Language

Because the haiku is so brief, it relies on simple phrases. Every word in the haiku has to play a meaningful role, so haiku poets choose their words carefully:

Over the wintry

Forest, winds howl in rage

With no leaves to blow.

In this haiku, Natsume Soseki uses one sentence to capture a single idea.

Fact 4: Haiku Focuses on Imagery

The brevity of the haiku lends itself well to imagery, the only literary device haiku poets conventionally rely on. The haiku presents a single, evanescent image using the five senses, trying to recreate a sensual experience for the reader in words, similar to the stroke of a paintbrush. Traditionally, haiku poets strove to capture images in nature, particularly ones that reflected a particular season, as in Soseki's example above.

About the Author

Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.

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