five syllables start
then seven in middle line
and five make haiku.

japanese poems
started centuries ago
basho wrote them first:

"an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water"

look, it's translated
besides, not all haiku need
seventeen syllab

I guess, in these days
basho's original would be performed
slightly differently:

mv frog ancient_pond
echo "Splash!"

Haiku need not refer to the seasons, though that's traditional.

Another tradition of haiku is to invoke metaphor.

beads of dew shining
   caught and held with no escape
      slaves in spiderwebs

Personally, metaphor leads to puns and wordplay.

my hand on your neck
   working a difficult fret
      A guitar's kapo

Further, a metaphor between the daily life of man and the imagery of nature is an interesting challenge; seventeen syllables isn't much room to maneuver.

tall wrinkled mountains
   soft white blankets each dark fold
      underwear and socks


The high-speed information throughput of the web medium becomes painfully apparent to me as I read over the haiku on this page and in my own writeup. Typed onto the white paper of my book, I take a full minute to read each one--and the tiny scene blooms in my mind's eye, swelling to capture the entire cosmos as a drop of water on a leaf reflects the image of the entire forest. But burned into the phosphors of my CRT, the haiku node on E2 whizzes by and delivers as much information as a freeway billboard. I implore you: on this page, at least, slow down and dive into these images as you would into a page of Where's Waldo?--you will discover they are at least as finely detailed. (This paragraph is as much advice to myself as it is to readers of this page.)

   Black! crow standing
      in his eye all eternity
         Long shadows draw

   Wild winds abate
      In morning's first light
         A broken teahouse

   Bursting open 
      The rose dawn fills
         My empty universe

   No barrier now
      Lofty mountain to one
         Riding the wind.

- Sho Ka

   Midnight. No waves,
      no wind, the empty boat
         is flooded with moonlight.

- Dogen (1200-1253)

   Though I'm in Kyoto,
      when the cuckoo sings
         I long for Kyoto.

   How admirable,
      he who thinks not, "Life is fleeting,"
         when he sees the lightning!

- Basho (1644-1694)

   A fallen flower
      returning to the branch?
         It was a butterfly.

- Moritake

   This dewdrop world--
      it may be a dewdrop,
         and yet--and yet--

- Issa (1763-1827), upon the death of his child

   First, there is a mountain.
      Then there is no mountain.
         And again.

   O snail o snail,
      climb Mount Fuji.
         But slowly, slowly.

   Engine is growling,
      paused at a stop sign--
         going home.

What nobody has mentioned is that the 5-7-5 format conveys considerably more information in the original Japanese than it does in English. I believe someone or other has come up with a syllable structure for English Haikus that more closely represents the form of a Japanese Haiku.

The extremely short length of English Haikus seems to be part of their charm however, and the 5-7-5 English format has been around so long now that it is unlikely it will ever change. This is probably why most people haven't even heard about the 'more faithful' other format.

I guess Japanese is just better for Haiku composition. Japanese Haikus have the same short rhythmical quality that a Haiku in English has, but convey a richer data set.

What seems to be missing from this node about a traditional Japanese form of expression is some haiku actually written in Japanese. As pointed out by Perianwyr and WyldWynd, Japanese haiku are vastly different from English haiku - the following examples are from Basho, Buson and Issa.

ume ga ka ni
notto hinoderu.
yamaji kana

scent of plum blossoms
on the misty mountain path.
a big rising sun

kono aki wa
nande toshiyoru
kumo ni tori

why this fall (autumn)
I feel old
bird beyond the clouds

harusame ya
koiso no kogai

spring rain -
small shells on a small beach

mitesae samushi

looks cold -
to say the most
my shadow

Samples taken from the International Haiku Kim-dom at

And one of my own, if only to provide contrast between good haiku and bad haiku (I'm taking liberties with Japanese grammar here...)

kono yoru ni
hito no kokoro wa
itsumo aku

in this darkness,
the hearts of men are
forever evil.

Now everyone who actually speaks Japanese can line up and kick my ass

In 1952, R. H. Blyth wrote,

"It is not merely the brevity by which the haiku isolates a particular group of phenomena from all the rest; nor its suggestiveness, through which it reveals a whole world of experience. It is not only in its remarkable use of the season word, by which it gives us a feeling of a quarter of the year; nor its faint all-pervading humour. Its peculiar quality is its self-effacing, self-annihilative nature, by which it enables us, more than any other form of literature, to grasp the thing-in-itself (vol. 4, p. 980)."
As I understand it (and Haiku appears to have a fluid definition), a Haiku consists of three lines. In the first, a situation is described; in the second, an action is performed; and in the third, there is an impression of the results. A Haiku is supposed to be the literary equivalent of a photographic snapshot - composed shortly after the sensation or feeling it describes.

Haiku is very appealing to internet types, due to the combination of creative expression and technical ingenuity required to say something interesting in five, seven, and five syllables. Haiku scores further geek points by being obscure enough to be unfamiliar to the mainstream; furthermore, it is from Japan.

With practice, it is possible to generate Haiku spontaneously. Eventually, you can develop a feel for the rhythm of words, without having to push symbols around on paper.

An interesting and useful quote:
"One of the most important aspects of classical haiku is the kigo, or season word, which indicates the season in which the poem is set. Kigo can express the season directly or through implication. ... Kigo in English-language American haiku might include the start of Daylight Saving Time (for spring), school letting out (summer), football season (fall), and Christmas (winter). The concept of kigo is vitally important to haiku poets, many of whom compile lists of appropriate words. Senryu, by comparison, generally follow the conventions of haiku but don't require kigo.
Haikus are about nature and seasons. Without the kigo, it's a senryu. Really.

- Paul Henry,

Haiku is a very novel form of expression that, although quite old, can be still be used easily (perhaps too easily) by just about anyone. In fact, my favorite haiku of all time comes from a student of Billy Collins, the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (yeesh, what a title). Mr. Collins was listening idly to a conversation between a couple of girls from his English class when he heard the following:

I told her and she
Was like, "oh, my god," and I
Was like, "oh, my god."

Inadvertant art is the best.

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