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Haiku is the Granddaddy of Short Poetry. Most the short forms that I discussed previously (Cinquain, Tetractys, Ethere, and Rictameter) are to a certain degree extreme variations of the Haiku. Without Haiku these forms would never exist.

I am by no means an authority on Haiku, so for a more in-depth view on Haiku (Japanese or Western) there are many sites on the net to choose from that gives a more in-depth and thoughtful analysis of the subject. This piece is intended as a broad and basic overview of the subject. My sources for my little journey in haiku history are:

“The Japanese Haiku” by Kenneth Yasuda 1957, “An Introduction to Haiku” by
Harold Henderson 1958 and “One Hundred Famous Haiku” by Daniel Buchanan 1973

Japanese Haiku

A Haiku is a unrhymed Japanese poem consisting of 17 kanas. It usually consists of three lines of 5/7/5 (5 kana in the first line, 7 kana in the second and 5 kana in the third). It records the essence of the moment – It mainly concerns itself with nature – humanity being part of it. The Philosophy of Haiku is very Tao –Zen. This form takes a lifetime to understand the beauty and complexities of its rich spiritual tapestry and years to even scratch the surface of its intricate simplicity.

Definition of Kana and Kigo

1. Japanese syllabic writing. The characters are simplified kanji and are used with kanji primarily to write inflections, particles, and function words and to show the pronunciations of some kanji and of all foreign words.

2. Western Syllables and Kana although similar in certain ways are not a match. The kana has a slightly shorter run or stretch-less variation in length. Herein lays all the controversy in the 5/7/5 count.

3. Haiku usually contains a season word (called Kigo). It is not a requirement, but season words are a big part of haiku. However, it's best to avoid dual or conflicting Kigo unless you’re quite experienced with the form. Do not fill your haiku with them. Haiku is a short poem, and must contain some substance. It should not be a weather report or a mere snapshot piece concerning nature.

What is Haiku?

Haiku is one of the most important forms of traditional Japanese poetry. Haiku is, today, a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Since early days, there has been confusion between the three related terms Haiku, Hokku and Haikai. The term hokku literally means "starting verse", and was the first starting link of a much longer chain of verses known as haika. Because the hokku set the tone for the rest of the poetic chain, it enjoyed a privileged position in haikai poetry, and it was not uncommon for a poet to compose a hokku by itself without following up with the rest of the chain.

Largely through the efforts of Masaoka Shiki, this independence was formally established in the 1890s through the creation of the term haiku. This new form of poetry was to be written, read and understood as an independent poem, complete in itself, rather than part of a longer chain.
Strictly speaking, then, the history of haiku begins only in the last years of the 19th century. The famous verses of such Edo-period (1600-1868) masters as Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa are properly referred to as hokku and must be placed in the perspective of the history of haikai even though they are now generally read as independent haiku. The distinction between hokku and haiku can be handled by using the terms Classical Haiku and Modern Haiku.
Modern Haiku.

The history of the modern haiku dates from Masaoka Shiki's reform, begun in 1892, which established haiku as a new independent poetic form. Shiki's reform did not change two traditional elements of haiku: the division of 17 syllables into three groups of 5, 7, and 5 syllables and the inclusion of a seasonal theme.
Kawahigashi Hekigoto carried Shiki's reform further with two proposals:
1 Haiku would be truer to reality if there were no center of interest in it.
2.The importance of the poet's first impression, just as it was, of subjects taken from daily life, and of local color to create freshness.
(Kenneth Yasuda-{The Japanese Haiku} 1957)

How to write Haiku (Western Style) (One school of Thought)
In Japanese, the rules for how to write Haiku are clear, and will not be discussed here. In foreign languages, there exist NO consensus in how to write Haiku-poems. Anyway, let's take a look at the basic knowledge:

What to write about?

Haiku-poems can describe almost anything, but you seldom find themes which are too complicated for normal PEOPLE's recognition and understanding. Some of the most thrilling Haiku-poems describe daily situations in a way that gives the reader a brand new experience of a well-known situation.

The metrical pattern of Haiku

Haiku-poems consist of respectively 5, 7 and 5 syllables in three units. In Japanese, this convention is a must, but in English, which has variation in the length of syllables, this can sometimes be difficult.

The technique of cutting.

The cutting divides the Haiku into two parts, with a certain imaginative distance between the two sections, but the two sections must remain, to a degree, independent of each other. Both sections must enrich the understanding of the other.

To make this cutting in English, either the first or the second line ends normally with a colon, long dash or ellipsis.
The seasonal theme.

Each Haiku must contain a Kigo, a season word, which indicate in which season the Haiku is set. For example, cherry blossoms indicate spring, snow indicates winter, and mosquitoes indicate summer, but the season word isn't always that obvious.

Please notice that Haiku-poems are written under different rules and in many languages. For translated Haiku-poems, the translator must decide whether he should obey the rules strictly, or if he should present the exact essence of the Haiku. For Haiku-poems originally written in English, the poet should be more careful. These are the difficulties, and the pleasure of Haiku. (Harold G. Henderson {An Introduction to Haiku}-1958)

Some examples from the Great Japanese masters: Don’t get hung up on the syllable count. These are translations-(done in western style)- in the original Japanese they adhere to the formalized 5/7/5 structure. The commas, periods, question marks and some rhyming in a few of these haiku are the translators’ additions. Japanese haiku is unrhymed and unpunctuated.

Akutagawa, Ryunosuke. (1892-1927).

Green frog,
Is your body also
freshly painted?

Sick and feverish
Glimpse of cherry blossoms
Still shivering.


Without flowing wine
How to enjoy lovely
Cherry blossoms?

Basho, Matsuo. (1644-1694).

Fallen sick on a journey,
In dreams I run wildly
Over a withered moor.
An old pond!
A frog jumps in-
The sound of water.

The first soft snow!
Enough to bend the leaves
Of the jonquil low.

In the cicada's cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.

In all the rains of May
there is one thing not hidden -
the bridge at Seta Bay.

The years first day
thoughts and loneliness;
the autumn dusk is here.

Clouds appear
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Harvest moon:
around the pond I wander
and the night is gone.

Poverty's child -
he starts to grind the rice,
and gazes at the moon.

No blossoms and no moon,
and he is drinking sake
all alone!

Won't you come and see
loneliness? Just one leaf
from the kiri tree.

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Buson, Yosa. (1716-84).
At the over-matured sushi,
The Master
Is full of regret.

Pressing Sushi;
After a while,
A lonely feeling

A whale!
Down it goes, and more and more
up goes its tail!


Covered with the flowers,
Instantly I'd like to die
In this dream of ours!

No sky
no earth - but still
snowflakes fall

Issa. (1762-1826).

In my old home
which I forsook, the cherries
are in bloom.

A giant firefly:
that way, this way, that way, this -
and it passes by.

Right at my feet -
and when did you get here,

My grumbling wife -
if only she were here!
This moon tonight...

A lovely thing to see:
through the paper window's hole,
the Galaxy.

A man, just one -
also a fly, just one -
in the huge drawing room.

A sudden shower falls -
and naked I am riding
on a naked horse

Kato, Shuson
I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.

Kawahigashi, Hekigodo. (1873-1937).
From a bathing tub
I throw water into the lake -
slight muddiness appears.

Night, and the moon!
My neighbor, playing on his flute -
out of tune

Murakami, Kijo. (1865-1938).
First autumn morning:
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face.

The moment two bubbles
are united, they both vanish.
A lotus blooms.

Natsume, Soseki. (1867-1916)
On New Year's Day
I long to meet my parents
as they were before my birth.

The crow has flown away:
swaying in the evening sun,
a leafless tree.

You rice-field maidens!
The only things not muddy
Are the songs you sing.

Ryusui. (1691-1758).
In all this cool
is the moon also sleeping?
There, in the pool?

Shiki, Masaoka. (1867-1902).
I want to sleep
Swat the flies
Softly, please.

After killing
a spider, how lonely I feel
in the cold of night!

For love and for hate
I swat a fly and offer it
to an ant.

A mountain village
under the pilled-up snow
the sound of water.

Night; and once again,
the while I wait for you, cold wind
turns into rain.

The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.

A lightning flash:
between the forest trees
I have seen water.

(Daniel Buchanan-{One Hundred Famous Haiku}1973)

Haiku, Senryu, and its variations.

Senryu deals primarily with the human condition while Haiku deals with nature. There are many disagreements on what is and is not Senryu. Some consider that haiku concerns itself with nature and Senryu human nature. Others see some human nature poems as haiku. The bulk of Haiku usually combines both human nature with nature. Primarily the big difference between Haiku and Senryu is tone. Senryu deals with political issues, heavy satiric humor and darker themes concerning humanity. The structure 5/7/5 or 17 syllables or less is similar.

Example of Haiku and Senryu: All the poetry in this last section was written by me.

a hug and a kiss--
midmorning sun clear skies and (this is a Haiku)
melting icicles

strangers on a train-
a hundred thousand virgins (this is a Senryu)
unholy jihad

The first piece can be considered haiku –it’s a first impression imprint with a kigo and has a natural feel to it. The second is a little more dark dealing with the baser aspects of human nature.

I mainly write Senryu in variation .

What do I mean by Variation.

Variation means a change in the basic rules.

All of my Senryu and Haiku have titles. Now that’s a no no in form. Some of them rhyme again a no no. Some are in two and three fragments – A haiku should have one fragment and 2 lines explaining that fragment. I like titles – I usually write the Senryu first and than title it. It’s kind of a cop out but I use haiku/Senryu as short poetry and am not married to the form if an opportunity arises that can make the poem better(at least in my mind). In clearer terms –rules are made to be broken as long as you know the rules. Understand the form first and than when you are comfortable suit that form to your needs. This is how Cinquain came about and many other wonderful forms, by creating variations.

Here are a few of my Senryu warts and all-although some can be classified as Haiku-you be the judge. Now I mainly stick with the 5/7/5 syllable count. Modern haiku(western) is mainly 17 syllables or less. 13 is the norm-it fits better with the English language. Do what’s best for you because it’s all Haiku.

Kung Fu Master

it prays for its prey-
snap pop crunch-a quick hello
bye bye grasshopper

Climatic Landscapes

tropical rainstorm
winter frost desert mirage
natures thunder taps

Debt Collector

Day and night begin
Innocence lost death awaits’
Salvation comes with a price

Faith Is Not Enough

don’t leave - not just yet
wait until she falls asleep
hope is all that’s left

My Pen Has No Eraser

to be forgotten
no one seems to know my name
I will shout louder

Snowflakes in Arizona

pebbles in a glass
seashells in a parking lot
a bird in a cage

A Rocky Mountain Fever

blood in our bellies
where deer and antelope play
in the woods we hide

Broken Wings

a walk in the park
wandering lost and alone
no one knows my name

Divide and Conquer

ketchup and oil slicks
cowboys sailboats and sunsets
a matter of choice

Family Outing

leaves crumbs soldier ants
honking geese picnic baskets
scrapped knees and band-aids

Lies Promises and a Smile

the morning after
spin doctors and apathy
election results

Napalm Memories

aces over eights
a slow walk in the jungle
tears fire and rain

The Empty Garden

the apple tastes sweet
as the snake laughs his tail off
god takes a long nap

Violets are Blue

red rose
a thorn in the heart
wilted petals

Violets are Blue (revised)

red rose
a prickly heart
wilted petals

Winter Silhouette

snow drifts and chapped lips
dancing on a crystal lake
end of an ice age

Alaska Moonlight

winter approaches
the sun takes a vacation
happy polar bears

Carry Me Forward

a fork in the road
a walk on a moonlit beach
footsteps in the sand

Country Music

tingling windchimes
babbling brooks and dragonflies
song birds and a flute


a kiss from those lips
sunrise rainbows and sunsets
a bit of heaven

From the Mind of an Ant

a mote in gods eye
in my soup does swim a fly
it’s all relative


A blast from heaven
It slithers back in its hole
Gods nap is disturbed


billowing clouds
a garden fragrance
anxious seedlings

Tick Tock Twelve O’Clock

in the dead of night
shadows on the windowsill
a shot in the dark

Tears of Blood

connection unplugged
the garden; now a desert
as she menstruates he hunts

Here is another mixed form with a few variations that includes two Senryu –a double Ethere, 2 Cinquain and a tyburn

Suicide bombs
Religious jihad
Homeland security
Political corruption
Corporate greed a Wall Street creed
Guns body bags pipelines and black gold
A hollow ring does democracy bring

smoke and mirrors-
accusing eyes and crooked smiles
no honor among thieves

nation building
smart bombs and oil wells
a country cries as the eagle

The politicians are lying about whose oil we are buying
No end to the crying as our soldiers lay dying

hunger breeds contempt-
nothing to lose but ones life
bread over bullets

the great divide
voices in the wilderness
the fault lies with not one but all

Multi-national cooperation
with communal participation
will fix what’s wrong and make it right
open communication
some patience and respect
a bit of foresight
some tolerance
and a

Now go do some Haiku……

nature weeps, the devil sings
at man’s greed and pride
and what it brings

just lots of useless
little things…

"He was the brightest of all the stars
of heaven, and even ripped and torn
in half, he still shone with a fire of a
billion suns. With a mighty roar
and a Big Bang, he imploded and
exploded out of the nothingness; and
the flow of Time began.”

Related Items


The following comments are for "Basic Form Poetry- Haiku and Senryu"
by TheRedCockroach

Haiku Examples
Great info Bob...keep 'em coming. Here is an example of mine.

Birds chirp on tree limbs
Heralding a Spring morning
Nature’s symphony!

The hard earth softens
And gives birth to a crocus
At last, spring is here!

Snow blankets the hills
Nature at her scenic best
Paints her own portrait

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: March 28, 2011 )

excellent manual...

I have just understood that the last line, or a haiku in general, does not have to contain a verb.

I always thought it would be nice to have a verb, especially a transitive one.

( Posted by: VickieSALT [Member] On: March 28, 2011 )

of haiku and senryu
I enjoyed your article.

I post my 5/7/5's, 3/5/3's and 5/7/5/7/7's (tanka), at poetry..not wishing to dishonour Japanese haiku.

5/7/5 (senryu):


walked into a burger spot
looked around then left

January 4, 2005


wanting things

ice needs freeze
rainbows require rain
ponds beg clouds

August 27, 2005

5/7/5/7/7 (tanka):


hip-hop rascal knave
salsa dancing Queen of Hearts
roller-skate Duchess
presentation with fresh twist
Alice in new wonderland

March 6, 2005

( Posted by: Bobby7L [Member] On: March 28, 2011 )

of senryupsyched variations


before dreams broke clouds
mid confetti and conflict
after trees felt words

March 21, 2008


braided hibiscus
subtropical storm endured
blossom peeks at clouds

May 19, 2009

( Posted by: Bobby7L [Member] On: March 28, 2011 )

I always felt blessed when you'd tell me one of my haiku was worthy so thanks for that Bob. It was quite a learning experience. I love them for their brevity which gives a writer an excellent lesson in concise crisp clarity.

my favourite is an autumn one .. gotta go look for it .. hang on .. brb ......

October’s calling
leaves whirling through bare branches
shivering naked

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 29, 2011 )

on a winter's day
snow glistens with diamonds bright
lighting frost's fingers

( Posted by: Pen [Member] On: March 29, 2011 )

worldwide love
India and here
appear little miracles
as well in Russia

April 19, 2005
a 3/5/3 senryupsyched offering

a 5/7/5/7/7 (tanka):

siren seen

off netless tightrope
diving naked for bullion
found rest of iceberg
caught passes from goddesses
casting seeds into ripples

March 25, 2oo5

( Posted by: Bobby7L [Member] On: March 29, 2011 )

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