10 of the Best Haiku to Read 

The haiku is a historically important and incredibly popular poetic form that’s still utilized today. On this list are ten of the best haiku ever written, some in Japanese and others in English. Each is representative of trends in haiku-writing.

Best Haiku to Read Visual Representation

The poems on this list represent work by the masters of the haiku form as it originated in Japan and examples of how the haiku has developed in the English language. Authors as different as Matsuo Bashō, Jack Kerouac, and Ezra Pound have experimented with the form.

Best Haiku to Read



Introduction to the Haiku Form

A haiku poem is a three-line form of Japanese poetry. The first and last lines of the poem have five syllables, and the second or middle line has seven.

Haiku are often interested in common themes and subject matter. Nature is the most famous haiku subject, including depictions of plants, animals, and the changing of the seasons. Sometimes, there are two contrasting images in the poem, especially in traditional haiku. That which appears in the first two lines and that which follows in the third. Juxtaposition is often used here. Readers shouldn’t be surprised to find other examples of literary devices and figurative language, including the use of similes.


The Old Pond by Matsuo Bashō

Theme: Nature
Time Period: 17th Century
Meaning: The beauty of the natural world and simple moments in day-to-day life.

Considered to be one of the four great masters of the Haiku, Matsuo Bashō’s poem ‘The Old Pond’ is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about what haikus can do. This particular poem reads as follows: 

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond—

Splash! Silence again.

When a writer is engaging with a short poem, one in which there are very few words and even fewer lines, each word is considered carefully. In this translated version of the original Japanese, the repetition of “silent” or “silence” stands out. This helps create a peaceful mood and tone. The speaker is contemplative and clear as he watches the frog and then studies the sound and the silence which follows.

A Poppy Blooms by Katsushika Hokusai

Theme: Nature’s beauty
Time Period: 19th Century
Meaning: Creating is a complex process that goes through phases.

Katsushika Hokusai learned from Bashō, and his influence can be felt in one of Hokusai’s most popular haiku, ‘A Poppy Blooms’. The poem reads: 

I write, erase, rewrite

Erase again, and then

A poppy blooms.

The same kind of repetition, despite the length of the lines, is used in this poem. It draws a reader’s attention to the words “write” and “rewrite”. Through the simple language and the implied repetition of this action, the poem carries a lot of weight. It speaks to the process of creation and learning, and to traits such as perseverance and determination. There is also the traditional natural imagery with the “poppy” blooming, a clear metaphor for the successful creation of written works. 

Spring Ocean by Yosa Buson

Theme: Nature/the ocean
Time Period: 18th Century
Meaning: Conveys the beauty and simple power of the “spring ocean.”

This beautiful haiku, written in the 18th century, depicts the movement of the ocean. The English translation, completed by Miura Diane and Miura Seiichiro reads:

Spring ocean

Swaying gently

All day long.


The Well Bucket by Kaga Chiyome

Theme: Community
Time Period: 18th Century
Meaning: Community is an integral part of everyday life.

The English translation reads:

The well-bucket is

Taken by the morning glory

Going to a neighbour for water.

This short poem was written by the relatively unknown author, Kaga Chiyome. She is known for her nature-based haiku that often speak of flowers. She died in 1775 and is far less commonly read than other Japanese poets of the period.

Spring is Passing by Matsuo Bashō

Theme: Change/Transformation
Time Period: 17th Century
Meaning: Spring will always come and bring with it beautiful changes to the natural world.

The English translation reads:

The passing spring

Birds mourn,

Fishes weep

With tearful eyes.

Another one of Bashō’s wonderfully evocative poems, ‘Spring is Passing,’ neatly conforms to the rhyme scheme associated with sonnets. He speaks of the passing of spring while also speaking more deeply about the end of life. The “birds cry,” he adds, and the fishes’ eyes are “With tears.” There is a very charming use of personification in these lines that might encourage a reader to think of these creatures as more like people, or representatives of people, than as only animals. 

In the Moonlight by Yosa Buson 

Theme: Beauty of nature, particularly at night.
Time Period: 18th Century
Meaning: An appreciation for the natural world and the way different atmospheres change it.

The English translation reads:

In pale moonlight~

the wisteria’s scent

comes from far away.

Buson wrote in the 1700s and is a well-loved master of the form. In this poem, the poet engages with traditional imagery and utilizes the standard metrical pattern. The lines speak of “moonlight” and how it transforms the sight and experience of wisteria, a flowering vine-like plant.

Its color and “scent” seem “far away” because of the atmosphere it exists in. The mood of this piece is wistful and contemplative, allowing the reader a moment of calm in their life. 

After Killing a Spider by Masaoka Shiki 

Theme: The importance of all living creatures
Time Period: 19th Century
Meaning: No matter the life, it is important in the broader scheme of things.

Here is the English translation:

After killing

a spider, how lonely I feel

in the cold of night!

Shiki is credited today with reviving the haiku forming and allowing it to flourish anew in a different century. This particular poem is one of his best. It reads: 

Like many haiku, the subject matter and imagery in these lines are relatable. Through only a few words, the poet is able to paint a clear picture of a dark, cold, and lonely night. The speaker thought that killing the spider was the right thing to do, but now he is even more alone. This sonnet should inspire a reader to consider the spider as a symbol. But a symbol of what is an even more important consideration. 

The West Wind Whispered by R.M. Hansard

Theme: Nature
Time Period: 19th Century
Meaning: The natural world is alive in a way that’s comparable to human experiences.

The west wind whispered,

And touched the eyelids of spring:

Her eyes, Primroses.

This English-language haiku was the winner of an 1899 haiku competition in Britain. It was one of the first of its kind. The poem uses nature as its primary theme, as do many of the most famous haiku ever written. It also personifies the “west wind,” another attribute of haiku-writing that is very common.

Plum Flower Temple by Natsume Soseki 

Theme: Nature
Time Period: 19th and 20th centuries
Meaning: Appreciation of beauty and strangeness in the natural world.

Here is the English translation:

Plum flower temple:

Voices rise

From the foothills

Soseki, who died in 1916, wrote fairy tales along with haikus. Of his many publications, this haiku is one of his best. The lines speak to mysterious and strange images, all of which are still connected to nature. A reader will likely leave this poem asking themselves what a “plum flower temple” is and who the voices belong to. 

Everything I Touch by Kobayashi Issa

Theme: Mistakes and life’s consequences
Time Period: 18th Century
Meaning: No matter how kind or tender one is, it’s still possible to be met with only cruelty.

The English translation reads:

Everything I touch

with tenderness, alas,

pricks like a bramble.

Another famous haiku poet, Issa, is responsible for some of the best examples of traditional Japanese haikus. His poems are clever and sometimes more light-hearted than the works of other writers.

In these three lines, he’s making a simple and hyperbolic statement about tenderness, human nature, and perception. His speaker describes an effort to touch with tenderness. Every attempt fails and leaves him with nothing but prickly bramble. This could speak to romantic relationships, friendships, or to just general good deeds in everyday life. 

FAQs

What is the most famous Japanese haiku?

There are many famous Japanese haiku. They include ‘In the moonlight’ by Yosa Buson, ‘The Old Pond‘ by Basho, and ‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki.

What is an example of haiku?

A haiku is a three-line poem that focuses on the use of specific numbers of syllables. The first and last lines contain five syllables, and the second line has seven. For example, ‘The Old Pond’ by Basho and ‘Everything I Touch’ by Kobayashi Issa.

Can a haiku have six syllables?

The strictest haiku follow the pattern of 5-7-5. But, there are one, two, and four-line variants that intentionally experiment with syllable arrangement, themes, and more.

Why is haiku important in Japan?

Throughout history, the haiku has played an important role in Japan. These short poems capture the view of many Japanese people on nature, philosophy, art, and emotion.

What does haiku mean in Japanese?

The word “haiku” comes from the longer Japanese phrase, “haikai no ku,” meaning “light verse.”

How do I write a haiku?

To write a haiku you need to pick a subject, likely one that relates to the natural world, and consider how you might describe that subject with a few words. Write down important images that come to mind and see if you can combine those images into the 5-7-5 format.

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Best Haiku to Read Visual Representation
Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • James McCormick says:

    Why us the text of some haiku presented and others not?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      If we don’t include a poem it’s usually because of copywrite law.

  • Bill Johnston says:

    radio music
    golden oldies post midnight-
    the hooting of owls

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for sharing this. Is “owls” one syllable or two though? I pronounce it with two… I have googled it and found nothing but debate. Interesting.

    • Owls is most certainly one syllable.
      .
      Words like this always used to confuse me too – but when the letter-sounds merge into one another like the ‘o’ and the ‘l’ in ‘owl’, you can consider it one syllable. Words that have a clear partition in their stresses such as ‘sad.est,’: are two syllables.
      .
      Some of the words in Japanese haikus would certainly be counted in English transliterations as two-syllable words, though in Japanese according to their rules – the Japanese word is one syllable. I hope this helps.
      .
      I wrote a short book of experimental haiku which also gives a brief history about the subject. You can paste the following link into the search at the top of the screen if you’re interested.
      .
      https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/michael-dante/the-beekeeper/paperback/product-1mk8gvp2.html?page=1&pageSize=4

      Nice haiku by the way.

      • Lee-James Bovey says:

        Thank you for this! I teach English and am still a bit unsure! Ultimately poetry is often subversive though. So if you want “owl” to be two syllables in a poem of your own, it can be!

  • Robert J. Wenke says:

    Thanks for this excellent collection. I should be writing my own books this afternoon, but I needed the very pleasant break your comments provided.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I too am a sucker for getting distracted by online listicles!

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