A haiku (both singular and plural) is perhaps the smallest form of poetry in the world, and it comes from a longer linked poem called a renga. The hokku was the first part of this extensive verse, which eventually became its own form with the help of such poets as Matsuo Basho (1644–1694). In English, it is commonly written in three lines, whereas in the original Japanese, it is composed in one vertical line. This type of poem usually shows a mood, aesthetic, and/or meaning through juxtaposing two things. Though traditionally it was written in 17 on (Japanese sound units), the conversion to English is not efficient. So, we try to aim for a poem that can be spoken in one breath and that fits in three lines, like:
There is a misunderstanding that haiku are nature poems. In reality, they are seasonal poems that revolve around certain events during the calendar year. These occurrences are often compared, contrasted, or associated with the poet’s life, something else happening in the season, an action, ideas, and many other things.
Here is the most famous haiku, written by Matsuo Basho (translated from Japanese):
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
The seasonal reference (kigo) here is the frog, which implies spring in Japan. The old pond is contrasted with the fresh sound of a frog leaping into it. The meaning behind it is multiplicitous, but generally, it means the frog has lost its ego or identity by submerging into the pond and only the sound of water remaining. It has become one with the water and has transformed—even for a moment.
This guide will end with a haiku by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) that demonstrates much of what has been mentioned:
spring’s first dawn—
the priest pretending
Life, The School of. “HISTORY OF IDEAS – Wabi-Sabi.” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Dec. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmHLYhxYVjA.
“Haikai Glossary.” Haiku Commentary, 16 Jan. 2019, haikucommentary.wordpress.com/haiku-glossary/.