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"The Japanese haiku . . . teaches us much about the art and craft of poem-making. Haiku is understated and concise. It is lyrical and dramatic, poignant and precise, personal and universal."
Haiku finds its genesis in late nineteenth century Japan. The haiku style is derived from hokku. Hokku translated means "starting verse." It would take me more than one short article to explain the various terms related to this style of poetry. Suffice it to say Haiku has a set pattern for sounds, which we have modernized by a set or pattern of 17 syllables. That pattern is generally 5-7-5. In other words, the first line contains five syllables, second line seven syllables, and third line five syllables again.
This lyric form usually reflects a poet's impression of something observed or experienced in nature, often under the influence of a specific season or month. Although an authentic English haiku is bound by this pattern of form, the Japanese version of haiku involves a similar pattern with a variance due to the different linguistic patterns inherent in the Japanese language.
An absolute must in haiku is the insertion within the three lines of a seasonal word referred to by the Japanese poets as "kigo." Traditionally, there is also a "caesura" or a break, often indicated by a punctuation mark, to contrast and compare two events, images, or situations implicitly.
The first soft snow!
Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644 - 1694) wrote this particular piece. Notice the use of punctuation after the first line and the use of a seasonal word "snow." You may also notice that in translation this original piece does not have the modified English 5-7-5 pattern. Remember, however, it is a translation.
By comparison, here is an English language haiku from an unknown author:
Bursting in bright hues
Note the 5-7-5 syllable pattern follows the modified English haiku style; however, it does not have the characteristic punctuation on line one or two. It does, however, have the seasonal "kigo."
I have read a number of modern Haiku poems, which stray far from the 5-7-5 rule. However, as in any writing, almost anything works if done tastefully. If you are interested in writing in this form, read loads of haiku poetry and develop your own style. Study the writings of Basho, Busson, and Issa to get you started.
5-7-5 may sound simple, but it's quite a challenge to capture the essential beauty of nature with words, especially in a confined form. Writing good haiku is an art in which seventeen syllables can be a masterpiece.
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