On this list, readers can find ten of the best haiku written about the winter season. Like most haiku, these initially followed a metrical pattern of 5-7-5. Meaning, the first and last lines contain five syllables and the second line contains seven. The poems on this list were originally written in Japanese, as the best-known and most skillful haiku were. This means that the format was been lost when the poems were translated into English.
The translations on this list can be found in Robert Hass’ The Essential Haiku published in 1994.
When the winter chrysanthemums go by Bashō
The first poem on this list is a haiku written by the famed Japanese poet Bashō. The haiku alludes to the changes in landscape and plant life when the winter season is in full effect. Rather than have beautiful flowers to write about as he does in his other poems, he has to turn to what’s left. This includes hardy vegetables like radishes.
While this poem specially mentions plants, it’s also a great example of how a haiku can be about much more. IN this case, readers can also get a sense of how the season changes, from summer to winter, and how one might find themselves saddened by the loss of life. Here are the three lines of the haiku:
When the winter chrysanthemums go,
There’s nothing to write about
Here by Issa
This short haiku was written by Issa, a Japanese poet who died in 1828. The poem can be interpreted in two different ways, first, as coming from a speaker who finds themselves particularly moved by the falling snow. They are inspired to reassert their piston in the world and appreciate where they are at the moment. The snow might be a beautiful sight, one that moves them to consider the world as a whole and their place in it.
Or, a secondary interpretation could be that the speaker is the snow itself. It suggests that it is finally “here.” The repetition of the word “here” twice increases its importance, especially when there are so few words in a haiku, to begin with. Here are the three lines of the poem:
The snow falling
Going Home by Buson
In this haiku, the poet describes a horse stumbling in the winter wind on its way home. This is a wonderfully clear image, one that readers are going to have no problem imagining. It’s now a particularly happy one, but it is evocative of the winter season.
The horse stumbles
In the winter wind.
Wintry wind by Bashō
Bashō’s “Wintery Wind’ is another winter haiku that uses one subject, like the previous example, to depict the season. In this case, the poet depicts a man who is passed by the wind and has a “swollen face.” It has been swollen with the cold, something that many readers are likely to relate to. Read the three lines of the haiku below:
Passing a man
With a swollen face.
Cover my head by Buson
In ‘Cover my head,’ Buson, another poet of the Edo period. He uses the haiku to ask a question. He is concerned with the cold and the way that a winter quilt can’t quite cover one’s head and feet. The blanket isn’t long enough to serve both purposes. This ensures that one part of the speaker’s body is going to be cold. This is another example of a relatable haiku. Here are the three lines:
Cover my head
Or my feet?
The winter quilt.
Winter solitude by Bashō
In this Bashō poem, the poet describes the “sound of the wind” and how the world in winter turns “one color,” white. It’s a beautiful short piece that paints a peaceful image of the season. This contrasts with some of the poems on this list which are far more dreary.
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.
At the winter solstice by Dakotsu Iida
‘At the winter solstice’ is another short winter haiku. The poet was born in the late 1880s and died in 1962. He writes about the winter solstice and how the sun can change one’s view of the landscape. Here are the three lines:
At the winter solstice
The sun permeates the firmament
Of the mountain province.
Miles of frost by Buson
This poem uses solitude as a primary feature of winter. The speaker claims the “moon” as their own as they look out at a landscape. Alone there, the world doesn’t exist. It’s only them, the lake, its frost, and the moon. Here are the three lines of the poem:
Miles of frost –
On the lake
The moon’s my own.
Glittering flakes by Horiuchi Toshimi
This thoughtful haiku uses imagery to describe a winter scene. It’s a beautiful one that does not turn to dreary winter scenes as a way to present itself. The poet uses words like “Glittering” and “moonlight.” Here are the three lines of the poem:
The wind is breaking
First snow by Bashō
The final poem on this list is also by Bashō. The first line, ‘First snow,’ gives the poem a causal title. The following lines depict that falling snow as it lands on a “half-finished bridge.” This creates a very clear image, one that suggests halted progress and the new season that workers, and all people, have to adjust to. Perhaps, it’s now too cold to work on the bridge, and when the winter recedes, the workers will return.
Or, perhaps the bridge is a metaphor for how life stops progressing in some ways when the world is frozen. Here are the three lines of the translated haiku:
On the half-finished bridge
Read more poems by Bashō.
A haiku is a three-line poem. The first and last lines contain five syllables, and the second line contains seven. Many haiku come from Japan. This means that the English translations, or any translation, are not going to be the same as the original.
A winter haiku is a three-line poem that is written about the winter season. A poet might choose to focus on the pros or cons of the season. They might only describe the landscape, or they might feature a character, like a person or an animal.
No, but traditionally most haiku were written about seasons. More broadly, haiku are generally about nature. This could be seasons, animals, flowers, or other elements, like wind or water.