A haibun is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that combines prose and haiku. 

E.g. An example of a haibun includes these lines by Matsuo Bashō: "When a country is defeated, there remain only mountains and rivers, and on a ruined castle in spring only grasses thrive."

This poetic form originated in the 17th century and was popularized by the famous haiku master Matsuo Bashō. The word “haibun” itself means “haikai writings” in Japanese.

Haibun Definition

In a haibun, the prose section provides a descriptive narrative or a personal essay-like passage, while the haiku serves as a brief, poetic moment or reflection that complements the prose. The prose typically describes a scene, a journey, an experience, or a memory in a concise and vivid manner, often incorporating sensory details and emotional insights.

The haiku that follows the prose section usually consists of three lines containing a total of 17 syllables, traditionally arranged in a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. The haiku serves as a concise poetic snapshot, capturing a fleeting moment or distilling the essence of the prose passage.

Haibun Subject Matter

Haibun often explore themes of nature, seasons, and personal introspection. It emphasizes a sense of immediacy, simplicity, and mindfulness. The juxtaposition of prose and haiku allows for a harmonious blend of narrative and poetic elements, creating a unique and contemplative reading experience.

Matsuo Bashō is commonly regarded as the most famous haiku and haibun poet in Japanese history
Matsuo Bashō is commonly regarded as the most famous haiku and haibun poet in Japanese history

Examples of Haibun Poetry

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi) by Matsuo Bashō

Matsuo Bashō’s most important literary work is often cited as The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It is a travel journal, of sorts, that contains some of his best-known haibun. Consider this excerpt as an example:

When a country is defeated, there remain only mountains and rivers, and on a ruined castle in spring only grasses thrive. I sat down on my hat and wept bitterly till I almost forgot time.

A thicket of summer grass

Is all that remains

Of the dreams and ambitions

Of ancient warriors

Here is another excerpt from the collection: 

I walk the north end of the lake this time every summer. Listen to the murky green waters slap up against the weather beaten dock. In the distance, the sound of children skinny dipping.

from a navy sky
sound of cicadas calling
full moon on the rise

Read more Matsuo Bashō poems

A Bashō haiku engraved on a stone in Tokyo, Japan
A Bashō haiku engraved on a stone in Tokyo, Japan

How to Write a Haibun? 

  1. Select a subject or experience that you want to explore in your haibun. It could be a personal memory, a nature scene, a journey, or any other moment that holds significance for you.
  2. Begin by writing a concise prose passage that describes your chosen topic. Focus on sensory details, vivid imagery, and emotional insights. Keep the prose section relatively short, typically a few paragraphs or a single paragraph.
  3. After writing the prose section, distill the essence of your prose into a haiku. The haiku should complement the prose, capturing a fleeting moment, an emotion, or a reflection related to the topic. Follow the traditional haiku structure of three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern.

The haiku should establish a connection with the preceding prose section. It can echo an image, expand on a theme, or provide a different perspective. The combination of prose and haiku should create a sense of harmony.

Traditional Japanese Garden
Haibun were often inspired by experiences in the natural world

After your haiku is finished, you may want to make some revisions to ensure you’ve conveyed exactly what you meant to. Every haibun is different, but many are deeply personal. 

Why are Haibun Important? 

The haibun poetic form is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it combines two distinct literary genres—prose and haiku—to create a unique and harmonious fusion. This blending of forms allows for a rich and layered expression of human experience, where prose provides a narrative or descriptive framework, while the haiku captures a fleeting moment or evokes a profound emotion in a concise and vivid manner.

Furthermore, the haibun form encourages a deep connection with nature and the natural world. It originated in Japan, where the appreciation of the natural environment is deeply ingrained in the culture. Haibun often incorporates seasonal references and observations of the changing landscape, fostering a sense of mindfulness.


Are haibun always written in Japanese? 

Haibun originated in Japan and has deep roots in Japanese literature, but it is not exclusively written in Japanese. Haibun has gained popularity worldwide, and poets from various cultures and languages have embraced the form, adapting it to their own literary traditions.

Do what are haibun usually about? 

Haibun can cover a wide range of subjects, but they often revolve around nature, personal reflections, travel experiences, and moments of insight or epiphany. The combination of prose and haiku allows for a multidimensional exploration of these themes, capturing both the narrative elements and the evocative imagery associated with them.

Is it easy to write a haibun? 

Writing a haibun can be both challenging and rewarding. The balance between prose and haiku, the careful selection of details, and the mastery of brevity all require skill and practice. However, the challenge also presents an opportunity for creative expression and self-discovery.

What makes a haibun interesting?

What makes haibun interesting is its ability to merge different literary genres and perspectives. It allows for a seamless integration of narrative and poetry, blending the beauty of imagery with the power of storytelling.

Related Literary Terms

  • Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
  • Haiku: a three-line Japanese poem that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5.
  • Imagery: refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
  • Impressionism: Impressionism in literature refers to stories dependent on a character’s subjective point of view.
  • Life Writing: Life writing is a term used to define a variety of genres focused on recording personal memories and experiences. 
  • Mood: the feeling created by the writer for the reader. It is what happens within a reader because of the tone the writer used in the poem.
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