A haiku is a short, unrhymed poem that is typically three lines long and follows a specific syllable pattern. There are a variety of haiku types that exist today, including traditional and modern haiku, as well as related forms such as senryu, tanka, haibun, and renku.
Traditional haiku is the original form of haiku poetry that was practiced in Japan. It typically consists of three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. The syllables are counted in the Japanese language, where one sound unit equals one syllable.
Traditional haiku often focuses on nature or a season, with an emphasis on capturing a single moment or image. This type of haiku also includes a kireji, or a cutting word, which is used to create a pause or break between different parts of the poem.
Good examples of this kind of haiku include:
- ‘The old pond’ by Matsuo Bashō
- ‘A poppy blooms’ by Katsushika Hokusai
- ‘Everything I touch‘ by Kobayashi Issa
Modern haiku, also known as free-form or contemporary haiku, has evolved from its traditional roots to include more flexibility in syllable count and format.
While traditional haiku adheres to a strict 5-7-5 syllable pattern, modern haiku poets often experiment with different syllable counts and formats to achieve a more minimalist style. This allows for greater freedom and creativity in expressing ideas and emotions through haiku poetry.
In addition, modern haiku often explores subject matter beyond nature or seasons, with a focus on capturing everyday experiences and emotions. This includes themes such as love, loss, and social issues, as well as observations about human nature and the world around us.
Modern haiku poets also tend to use a more minimalist approach to language and imagery, using simple and direct language to convey deeper meanings.
Examples of modern haiku include:
Senryu is a type of Japanese poetry that is similar in format to haiku but with a focus on human nature and social situations rather than nature or seasons. Like haiku, senryu consists of three lines, typically with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, but it’s more concerned with exploring the complexities of human emotion and behavior.
Unlike haiku, which often has a serious or contemplative tone, senryu is known for its humorous or satirical tone. Senryu poets often use irony, sarcasm, or wordplay to highlight the contradictions and absurdities of human behavior.
Senryu poetry has been used to comment on a wide range of social issues, including politics, religion, and culture.
Besides the haiku, the tanka is perhaps the best-known Japanese poetic form. Tanka is a type of Japanese poetry that is longer than haiku, consisting of five lines with a total of 31 syllables. While tanka shares some similarities with haiku, it allows for greater flexibility in language and imagery.
Like haiku, tanka often focuses on nature or emotion, but it allows for a more expanded exploration of these themes. Tanka poets often use metaphors and similes to convey complex emotions or ideas, and they may use more elaborate descriptions and details than haiku.
In addition, tanka often follows a specific structure, with the first three lines forming a self-contained phrase or image and the last two lines providing a turn or shift in perspective.
- The many works of Lady Murasaki
- ‘Two stars deep in heaven’ by Yosana Akiko
- ‘Tanka’ by Amy Lowell
Haibun is a type of Japanese poetry that combines haiku with prose to create a unique form of expression. Typically, haibun takes the form of a travelogue or personal reflection, in which the writer shares their experiences or observations in prose form, punctuated or complemented by haiku.
In haibun, the prose section is typically longer than the haiku section, and it provides a narrative or descriptive context for the haiku that follows. The haiku, in turn, adds a layer of depth and meaning to the prose, capturing a single moment or image that encapsulates the essence of the writer’s experience.
Haibun can be written about any subject, but it’s often used to capture the beauty of nature or the complexities of human emotion.
Renku is a collaborative form of Japanese poetry that is created by multiple poets working together to compose a single poem. In renku, each poet contributes alternating stanzas, with each stanza building on the one before it to create a continuous narrative or sequence of images.
Renku follows a set of rules for linking stanzas, which vary depending on the type of renku being composed. Incorporating multiple types of haiku, as well as other forms of poetry, is an important aspect of renku. The haiku stanzas in renku are typically written in a more traditional style, focusing on nature or the changing seasons, while other types of poetry may explore different themes or ideas.
Haiku is an important form of poetry because it captures a single moment or image with precision and economy. The form has evolved over centuries, reflecting changes in society.
Haiku typically consists of three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. The form emphasizes the use of simple, natural language and imagery to convey a moment or impression. Haiku often focuses on nature or the changing seasons, and it may use a cutting word, or kireji, to create a contrast.
Some famous haiku include Matsuo Basho’s “old pond / a frog jumps in / the sound of water,” Yosa Buson’s “winter solitude / in a world of one color / the sound of wind,” and Kobayashi Issa’s “the world of dew / is a world of dew / and yet, and yet…”
Haiku evolved from earlier forms of Japanese poetry, such as the tanka and the haikai, and became a distinct form in the 17th century. The form was popularized by poets such as Matsuo Bashō, who elevated haiku to a high art form through his use of simple, natural language and imagery.