Luna, bambú y niebla

Today’s Wednesday Prompt comes in the form of a tutorial from  Ruchira Shukla (read about her in the author bio below). The linky will be open for a week and Ruchira will visit your posts to read and comment on your attempt at Haiku.  

Haiku is a style of Japanese poetry mainly characterized by its very short format. Like almost all Japanese forms of art, Haiku is inspired by nature. Through Haiku, poets attempt to create an image for an element of nature or an emotion.

The beauty of a Haiku lies in its subtle imagery. Personal experiences or natural beauty is never explicitly described but fleeting natural images or emotions are used to subtly capture a larger scene. A haiku leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination or interpretation. That is why when the original Japanese Haikus were translated into English; there were at least a dozen interpretations for each of them!

Let’s look at this translation of a Haiku by Basho (Japan’s most famous Haiku poet)

From time to time
the clouds give rest
to the moon-gazers

Not once does Basho describe the beauty of the moon, or the cloudy night. But his Haiku creates that imagery.

Haiku is largely based on Zen and there is something of the austerity and discipline of Zen in it. The idea of describing the present moment comes from Zen’s concept of the transient nature of things and its emphasis on living in the moment.

Like Zen, Haiku poetry is extremely disciplined and structured. It has its own set of fixed rules that must be followed. The major criticism against Haiku is that it doesn’t allow poetic freedom. But that is the whole beauty of Haiku. To be creative within the given constraints!

A haiku is characterized by the following things:

1) Structure – A Japanese Haiku always consists of 17 “On” or phonetic sounds, written in three lines of 5-7-5 each. When we write a Haiku in English, we use syllables instead. So an English Haiku is written using a total of 17 syllables in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables each.

For example, here is a Haiku that I attempted:

Gulmohar flames (5)
Fireflies glowing amber (7)
Summer fireworks (5)

2) Use of “Kigo” or Seasonal word :   A Haiku must always have a word or a phrase referring to the season. This reference can be direct -such as using the word summer or rain; or subtle – such as a flowering wisteria, a singing bird, or a leafless tree.

For example in this poem by Basho

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

He is describing spring. The “Kigo” here is Fragrant Blossoms.

The element of nature is sometimes used to describe the poet’s state of mind. In this poem

All along this road
not a single soul
only autumn evening comes

Basho attempts to describe his solitude and loneliness by writing about an empty road on an autumn evening.

3) Juxtaposition :  A haiku will always have two parts that are grammatically independent of each other and that portray two distinct images. At the same time there will be a relationship between these two images.
Let’s look at this Haiku, again by Basho:

Old pond
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

The juxtaposition here is between the first and the last two lines.

Juxtaposition is one of the most difficult things to achieve when you are writing a Haiku in English. Here is an example by the American Novelist Jack Kerouac:

Snow in my shoe
Sparrow’s nest

Now that we have covered the basics of a Haiku, how about writing a few of our own !

We will use a “Kigo” as our prompt. And since it’s the rainy season (at least here in India!) what better prompt can there be! So write a Haiku, with some element of the Rains in it. Your “Kigo” can be anything, clouds, raindrops, frogs, paper boats …. Let your imagination soar!

And remember the essence of a Good Haiku is to show your readers and not tell!


Author Bio: I live in an urban jungle but my heart is in the mountains. I have two simple aims in life, to travel and to write. And to support these two activities I also work at a boring corporate job! I have a Masters in degree in Japanese and although I live in New Delhi now, I have been associated with the Land of the Rising Sun for the past 10 years in one form or the other. Travelling, exploring different cultures and Learning languages is a passion and so is literature. Read about my travel adventures and other writing at my website, Nirjharini

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