Haiku (俳句 haikai verse ) listen (help·info), plural haiku, is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively. Haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku. Previously called hokku, haiku was given its current name by the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century.
In Japanese haiku a kireji, or cutting word, typically appears at the end of one of the verse's three metrical phrases. While difficult to precisely define its function, a kireji lends the verse structural support, effectively allowing it to stand as an independent poem. Depending on which cutting word is chosen, and its position within the verse, it may briefly cut the stream of thought, suggesting a parallel between the preceding and following phrases, or it may provide a dignified ending, concluding the verse with a heightened sense of closure.
In English, since kireji has no direct equivalent, poets sometimes use punctuation such as a dash or ellipsis, or an implied break, to divide a haiku into two grammatical and imagistic parts. The purpose is to create a juxtaposition, prompting the reader to reflect on the relationship between the two parts.
A haiku traditionally contains a kigo, a defined word or phrase which symbolizes or implies the season of the poem.
Among traditionalist Japanese haiku writers, kireji and kigo are considered requirements. Kigo are not always included by modern writers of Japanese "free-form" haiku and some non-Japanese haiku.
In contrast to English verse which is typically characterized by meter, Japanese verse counts sound units (moras), known as "on". The word on is often translated as "syllable", but there are subtle differences between an "on" and an English-language "syllable". Traditional haiku consist of 17 on, in three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on respectively.
The word onji (音字; "sound symbol") is sometimes used in referring to Japanese sound units in English although this word is archaic and no longer current in Japanese. In Japanese, the on corresponds very closely to the kana character count (closely enough that moji (or "character symbol") is also sometimes used as the count unit).
One on is counted for a short syllable, an additional one for an elongated vowel, diphthong, or doubled consonant, and one for an "n" at the end of a syllable. Thus, the word "haibun", though counted as two syllables in English, is counted as four on in Japanese (ha-i-bu-n).
Most writers of literary haiku in English use about ten to fourteen syllables, with no formal pattern.
This separates into on as:
Two more haiku by Bashō:
Hokku is the opening stanza of an orthodox collaborative linked poem, or renga, and of its later derivative, renku (or haikai no renga). By the time of Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), the hokku had begun to appear as an independent poem, and was also incorporated in haibun (a combination of prose and hokku), and haiga (a combination of painting with hokku). In the late 19th century, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) renamed the standalone hokku to haiku. The latter term is now generally applied retrospectively to all hokku appearing independently of renku or renga, irrespective of when they were written, and the use of the term hokku to describe a standalone poem is considered obsolete, although this approach has been challenged.
In the 1600s, two masters arose who elevated haikai and gave it a new popularity. They were Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) and Ueshima Onitsura (1661–1738). Hokku is the first verse of the collaborative haikai or renku, but its position as the opening verse made it the most important, setting the tone for the whole composition. Even though hokku had sometimes appeared individually, they were always understood in the context of renku. The Bashō school promoted standalone hokku by including many in their anthologies, thus giving birth to what is now called 'haiku'. Bashō also used his hokku as torque points within his short prose sketches and longer travel diaries. This sub-genre of haikai is known as haibun. His best-known book, Oku no Hosomichi, or Narrow Roads to the Interior, is counted as one of the classics of Japanese literature and has been translated into English extensively.
Bashō was deified by both the imperial government and Shinto religious headquarters one hundred years after his death because he raised the haikai genre from a playful game of wit to sublime poetry. He continues to be revered as a saint of poetry in Japan, and is the one name from classical Japanese literature that is familiar throughout the world.
The next famous style of haikai to arise was that of Yosa Buson (1716–1783) and others such as Kitō, called the Tenmei style after the Tenmei Era (1781–1789) in which it was created. Buson attempted to revive the values of Bashō, and rescue haiku and renku from the stultified condition into which it had sunk since Bashō's day.
Buson is recognised as one of the greatest masters of haiga (an art form where painting is combined with haiku or haikai prose). His affection for painting can be seen in the painterly style of his haiku.
No new popular style followed Buson. However, a very individualistic, and at the same time humanistic, approach to writing haiku was demonstrated by the poet Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827), whose miserable childhood, poverty, sad life, and devotion to the Pure Land sect of Buddhism are evident in his poetry. Issa made the genre immediately accessible to wider audiences.
Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) was a reformer and revisionist. A prolific writer, even though chronically ill during a significant part of his life, Shiki disliked the ‘stereotype’ haikai writers of the 19th century who were known by the deprecatory term tsukinami, meaning ‘monthly’, after the monthly or twice-monthly haikai gatherings of the end of the 18th century (in regard to this period of haikai, it came to mean ‘trite’ and ‘hackneyed’). Shiki also criticized Bashō. Like the Japanese intellectual world in general at that time, Shiki was strongly influenced by Western culture. He favored the painterly style of Buson and particularly the European concept of plein-air painting, which he adapted to create a style of haiku as a kind of nature sketch in words, an approach called shasei, literally ‘sketching from life’. He popularized his views by verse columns and essays in newspapers.
Hokku up to the time of Shiki, even when appearing independently, were written in the context of renku. Shiki formally separated his new style of verse from the context of collaborative poetry. Being agnostic, he also separated it from the influence of Buddhism. Further, he discarded the term "hokku" and proposed the term haiku as an abbreviation of the phrase "haikai no ku" meaning a verse of haikai, although the term predates Shiki by some two centuries, when it was used to mean any verse of haikai. Since then, "haiku" has been the term usually applied in both Japanese and English to all independent haiku, irrespective of their date of composition. Shiki's revisionism dealt a severe blow to renku and surviving haikai schools. The term "hokku" is now used chiefly in its original sense of the opening verse of a renku, and rarely to distinguish haiku written before Shiki's time.
Senryū is a poem that is written in a similar form and emphasizes irony, satire, humor, and human foibles rather than seasons; it may or may not contain a kigo and kireji.
The carving of famous haiku on natural stone to make poem monuments known as kuhi (句碑) has been a popular practice for many centuries. The city of Matsuyama has more than two hundred kuhi.
The earliest westerner known to have written haiku was the Dutchman Hendrik Doeff (1764-1837), who was the Dutch commissioner in the Dejima trading post in Nagasaki, during the first years of the 19th century. One of his haiku:
kaina wo karan
|lend me your arms,
fast as thunderbolts,
for a pillow on my journey.
Although there were further attempts outside Japan to imitate the "hokku" in the early 1900s, there was little understanding of its principles. Early Western scholars such as Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850–1935) and William George Aston were mostly dismissive of hokku's poetic value. One of the first advocates of English-language hokku was the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi. In "A Proposal to American Poets," published in the Reader magazine in February 1904, Noguchi gave a brief outline of the hokku and some of his own English efforts, ending with the exhortation, "Pray, you try Japanese Hokku, my American poets!" At about the same time the poet Sadakichi Hartmann was publishing original English-language hokku, as well as other Japanese forms in both English and French.
In France, haiku was introduced by Paul-Louis Couchoud around 1906. Couchoud's articles were read by early Imagist theoretician F. S. Flint, who passed on Couchoud's (somewhat idiosyncratic) ideas to other members of the proto-Imagist Poets' Club such as Ezra Pound. Amy Lowell made a trip to London to meet Pound and find out about haiku. She returned to the United States where she worked to interest others in this "new" form. Haiku subsequently had a considerable influence on Imagists in the 1910s, notably Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" of 1913, but, notwithstanding several efforts by Yone Noguchi to explain "the hokku spirit," there was as yet little understanding of the form and its history.
A translation of Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi to Spanish was done in 1957 by the Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz in collaboration with Japanese diplomat Eikichi Hayashiya.
R.H. Blyth was an Englishman who lived in Japan. He produced a series of works on Zen, haiku, senryū, and on other forms of Japanese and Asian literature. In 1949, with the publication in Japan of the first volume of Haiku, the four-volume work by Blyth, haiku were introduced to the post-war world. This four-volume series (1949-52) described haiku from the pre-modern period up to and including Shiki. Blyth's History of Haiku (1964) in two volumes is regarded as a classical study of haiku. Today Blyth is best known as a major interpreter of haiku to English speakers. His works have stimulated the writing of haiku in English.
The Japanese-American scholar and translator Kenneth Yasuda published The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples in 1957. The book includes both translations from Japanese and original poems of his own in English, which had previously appeared in his book titled A Pepper-Pod: Classic Japanese Poems together with Original Haiku. In these books Yasuda presented a critical theory about haiku, to which he added comments on haiku poetry by early twentieth-century poets and critics. His translations apply a 5–7–5 syllable count in English, with the first and third lines end-rhymed. Yasuda's theory includes the concept of a "haiku moment" based in personal experience, and provides the motive for writing a haiku. His notion of the haiku moment has resonated with haiku writers in North America, even though the notion is not widely promoted in Japanese haiku.
In 1958, An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Bashô to Shiki by Harold G. Henderson was published by Doubleday Anchor Books. This book was a revision of Henderson's earlier book titled The Bamboo Broom (Houghton Mifflin, 1934). After World War Two, Henderson and Blyth worked for the American Occupation in Japan and for the Imperial Household, respectively, and their shared appreciation of haiku helped form a bond between the two.
Henderson translated every hokku and haiku into a rhymed tercet (a-b-a), whereas the Japanese originals never used rhyme. Unlike Yasuda, however, he recognized that seventeen syllables in English are generally longer than the seventeen moras of a traditional Japanese haiku. Because the normal modes of English poetry depend on accentual meter rather than on syllabics, Henderson chose to emphasize the order of events and images in the originals. Nevertheless, many of Henderson's translations were in the five-seven-five pattern.
Today, haiku are written in many languages, but most poets outside of Japan are concentrated in the English-speaking countries and in the Balkans.
It is impossible to single out any current style or format or subject matter as definitive. Some of the more common practices in English are:
While traditional Japanese haiku has focused on nature and the place of humans in it, some modern haiku poets, both in Japan and the West, consider a broader range of subject matter suitable, including urban contexts. While pre-modern haiku avoided certain topics such as sex and overt violence, contemporary haiku sometimes deal with such themes.
The loosening of traditional standards has resulted in the term "haiku" being applied to brief English-language poems such as "mathemaku" and other kinds of pseudohaiku. Some sources claim that this is justified by the blurring of definitional boundaries in Japan.
In the early 21st century, there is a thriving community of haiku poets worldwide, mainly communicating through national and regional societies and journals in Japan, in the English-speaking countries (including India), in Northern Europe (mainly Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands), in central and southeast Europe (mainly Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania), and in Russia. Haiku journals published in southeast Europe include Letni časi (Slovenia), Vrabac (Croatia), Haiku Novine (Serbia), and Albatros (Romania).
In the early 20th century Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore composed haiku in Bengali. He also translated some from Japanese. In Gujarati, Zeenabhai Ratanji Desai 'Sneharashmi' popularized haiku and remains a popular haiku writer. In February 2008, the World Haiku Festival was held in Bangalore, gathering haikuists from all over India and Bangladesh, as well as from Europe and the US.
Some groups, such as the Haiku International Association, try to promote exchanges between Japanese and foreign haiku poets.
Online journals that publish haiku poetry exclusively (see the list in Haiku in English) and haiku sites owned by various haiku writers can be found online, as well as scores of pseudo-haiku.
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Haiku is an old plantation town on the island of Maui.
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Haiku (俳句?) is a mode of Japanese poetry, and is in fact a modification made in the late 19th century by Masaoka Shiki of the older hokku (?) form. The traditional hokku usually was written in three verses of more or less 5, 7, 5 syllables (on-ji). The Japanese word on, meaning "sound", corresponds to a mora, a phonetic unit similar but not identical to the syllable of a language such as English. A haiku has a special season word (the kigo) to represent the season in which the poem is set, or a reference to the natural world.
Haiku usually breaks in three parts, called kireji, normally placed at the end of the first five or second seven morae. In Japanese, there are actual kireji words. In English, kireji is often replaced with commas, hyphens, elipses, or breaks in the haiku. Japanese haiku are normally written in one line, while English language haiku are traditionally separated into three lines.
Japanese hokku and haiku are traditionally printed in one vertical line.
All of the poets below have some haiku. However, only Hackett and Virgilio are known for writing haiku. Richard Wright wrote some 4000 haiku in the last eighteen months of his life. Amiri Baraka recently wrote a collection of what he calls "low coup." This is his own version of haiku. Poet Sonia Sanchez is also known for putting together haiku and the blues musical genre.