Not all poetry is equal. There are many different types of poems and the Haiku may be one that is not familiar to you.

Haiku poems are derived from Japanese poetry and are used to describe many themes from love, nature and much more. Many famous English poets have successfully created beautiful Haiku poetry

An important aspect of Haiku is that they are formed by 17 syllables over a three-line pattern. Syllables are broken up as follows:

  • Line 1: five syllables
  • Line 2: seven syllables
  • Line 3: five syllables

This configuration comes from the fact that in Japanese, Haiku poems were originally measured in breaths. The English adaptation retains the Haiku meaning through the use of a pattern of syllables which is still embraced by poets today.

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Characteristics of Haiku

To achieve Haiku meaning certain characteristics need to be met:

  • English haiku poetry usually contains 17 syllables
  • This format is generally composed through the use of three lines
  • A 5-7-5 pattern of syllables across three lines make a Haiku
  • Two subjects are usually placed in juxtaposition
  • These two subjects, simple in nature, are often separated by punctuation
  • Traditionally, haiku poems refer to the seasons and nature

Rhyme is not necessary to provide haiku meaning, however, some poets try to rhyme lines one and three, this can be challenging with such a short poem.

If you study some of the famous haiku poetry, you will notice that the author focuses on two simple subjects and includes an unexpected perspective.  unexpected perspective. Not unlike a joke, the initial part of the poem serves as the set-up, while the second delivers the punchline to provide the haiku meaning.

Poet Murakami Kijo (1865 – 1938) provides brilliant examples of haikus:

First autumn morning:
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.

In Kijo’s haiku, you will notice that the formula explained above is carefully followed:  two everyday subjects, punctuation to separate the two lines, a reference to nature, and an unusual ending.

Examples of Haikus in More Modern Times

Since Kijo’s day, there has been debate on haiku form. There are a few modern purists who oppose the 5-7-5 pattern, preferring the shorter original Japanese which was articulated in only one breath.

Whether your preferred haiku poems imitate those of the traditionalists or the modern 5-7-5 form of haiku poetry, it is an amazing form of art.

But don’t be fooled! Even though a child could understand the basic form and structure of haiku poems, it can take a lifetime to master.

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Themes in Haiku Poetry

Here are some of the features within Haiku poems to either help you to identify examples of haikus or to help you write one:

  • An emphasis on nature.
  • A "season word" like "snow" or “sun" reveals the time of year.
  • A divide of sorts within the poem, which changes the focus from one thing to another. The relationship between the two can be surprising.
  • Haiku include an emotion that reveals how the poet feels. It could be the sight of an empty sky creating loneliness that imparts the same feeling to the reader.

More Haiku Examples

See if you can spot the characteristics of haiku poetry through these famous haiku poems.

Haiku by Jack Kerouac

The low yellow

moon above the

quiet lamplit house

Matsuo Basho is a famous Haiku writer. He wrote in excess of 1 000 Haiku poems during his lifetime. His poem “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is within the Japan's most famous collection of haiku. His work was originally written in Japanese and has been translated into English for the rest of us to enjoy.

In the Twilight Rain by Matsuo Basho

In the twilight rain

these brilliant-hued hibiscuses ...

A lovely sunset

A Bee by Matsuo Basho

A bee

staggers out

of the peony.

A Caterpillar by Matsuo Basho

A caterpillar,

this deep in fall –

still not a butterfly

woman in Japan wearing a kimono and using smartphone
Haiku were originally Japanese poems. - Source: Pexels

The following poet, Donald Hall decided to change the Haiku format altogether to write his poem Distressed Haiku. This poem, written over 25 lines instead of three is one of those examples of haikus that do not follow a traditional Japanese or English format but do incorporate many other characteristics.

Distressed Haiku - Poem by Donald Hall

In a week or ten days
the snow and ice
will melt from Cemetery Road.

I'm coming! Don't move!

Once again it is April.
Today is the day
we would have been married
twenty-six years.

I finished with April
halfway through March.

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?

In April the blue
mountain revises
from white to green.

The Boston Red Sox win
a hundred straight games.
The mouse rips
the throat of the lion

and the dead return.

Write Your Haiku

So now, why don’t you give it a try? Using the above basic form, structure, and tips, you could take inspiration from the above examples of haikus and try to write your own. Here are a few further tips to help ignite your creativity:

Walk in Nature

Many haiku are motivated by objects in nature, simply looking at objects like rocks, flowers, trees, and insects can do that. Taking a walk or hike near a forest, beach, or lake will certainly spark ideas for your poem.

Failing this, you could flip through nature books or find images online. Find a particular scene that resonates with your soul.

Focus on a Seasonal Event or Season

Remember that the appearance of a season in some form or another is a common characteristic of haiku poetry. Try focusing on a natural event, especially if it occurs seasonally. Look at the blooming Jacaranda trees if you live in Pretoria or the huge swells of the winter ocean if you live in Cape Town.

Japanese temple gate in lake
Going out into nature can provide inspiration for haiku poems. - Source: Unsplash

Seasonal haiku will often focus on a very specific seasonal detail. This type of haiku can be a fun way for you to write about a time of year that is meaningful to you.

Choose an Object or Person as Your Subject

Haiku do not always have to be about seasons or nature. You could choose a person or object as the inspiration for your poem. Perhaps you want to write something funny concerning your dog. Alternatively, you could try something thoughtful about an old childhood toy.

Keep Reading Examples of Haiku

To get a good sense of the genre, read famous haiku that are considered good examples of the form.

Finally, Start Writing Using These Tips: 

  1. Write two lines regarding something beautiful in nature. Do not worry about counting the syllables yet.
  2. Write a third line that is disjointed or surprising from the other two.
  3. Consider the three lines together. Does the arrangement of these two unrelated parts suggest any startling relationships? Does it give you an interesting idea?
  4. Now rewrite the poem. This time use the 5-7-5 syllable pattern and experiment with the fresh perspective that occurred to you.
  5. Conclude the poem using an intriguing last line. A good Haiku should leave the reader hanging.
  6. Read your haiku aloud, ensure that the lines flow together. If it sounds rough or choppy then revise.

If you loved the exercise of learning how to write a haiku, you could also try your hand at limericks, which are characterised by their short, humorous style. If you love classic literature, the lengthy epic poem might be more suited to your taste. Shakespeare fans usually love the 14-line sonnet, while musicians are usually drawn to the lyrical ballad poem. If performing your poetry to an audience is your thing then you should practise slam poetry. The point is that no two poetry styles are the same and even if you do not want to be restricted to any particular form, you could try free verse poetry which is rule-free and purely about free expression.

Using a private poetry tutor will help you to master your favourite poetry form in no time, you will also have objective critique and the opportunity to have your lessons personalised to suit your unique style and schedule.

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.