Perhaps you’ve heard of it before, even if only in passing, but do not know much about this traditional form of Japanese poetry.
On International Haiku Poetry Day (17th April), we thought we would share some information about this beautiful form of writing, how to write one, and the history behind Haiku dating back centuries.
For centuries, a Haiku has been an internationally recognisable and appreciated form of poetry. While there are rules and conventions attached to how to write a Haiku, the basic premise is very simple: short and sweet.
There is no need to rhyme, or to make somebody laugh. Instead, this style of poetry hailing from Japan is often reserved for a basic appreciation of life and the evolving world around us.
While there are conventions about the content of a Haiku, the structure itself is universal. A Haiku will contain three lines and seventeen syllables. The first and last line of the poem have five syllables, with the middle line having seven. As long as the words you use fit within those guidelines, it can generally be considered a Haiku in modern times.
A traditional Haiku, on the other hand, while keeping the same syllable structure, would often contain certain qualities, often invoking imagery or feelings attached to our natural surroundings and a quiet but powerful appreciation of life outside of the self. A kigo, otherwise known as a seasonal word, is a regular feature in traditional Haiku and indeed Japanese culture.
While some forms of poetry can seem difficult to analyse and comprehend with an untrained eye, the simplicity and style of a Haiku lends itself to accessibility for both readers and writers. Appreciation of the seasons, nature, and the images we associate with them are practically universal, meaning that by following the structure, anyone can try their hand at writing a Haiku!
Matsuo Bashō (1644-94) is widely considered the master of the Haiku, and began experimenting in this poetry style by adapting rengu poems which were commonplace in earlier centuries, took a longer form, but often contained what we know as a Haiku today in the opening verse, following the same 5-7-5 structure that is used today. The rest, as they say, is history! Here is one of Bashō’s most popular poems, with the syllables hyphenated for you to see:
Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya,
Ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into)
Mi-zu (water) no o-to (sound)
In English, this is roughly translated to:
The old pond; A frog jumps in — The sound of the water.
As long as you remember the 5-7-5 structure, and the emphasis on seasons, the natural world, and the feelings and senses that they bring, you can’t go wrong! So why not try your hand at a Haiku on today’s celebration? Here’s one from the Roehampton team to our brilliant students as we await your return to campus: