How to Haiku

By Maria Moss

“Haiku” by Stephane

I finally know
why students don’t like Haikus
too many syllables

Ooops, something went wrong – right: the last line. It has 6 syllables but should consist of no more than 5. O well, that’s the problem with Haiku writing – it sounds easy at first, but there are quite a few rules to obey. At least if you want to write a traditional Haiku.

First, the good part: a traditional Haiku has no punctuation and does not rhyme. It consists of 3 lines with 5 – 7 – 5 syllables each. If this still sounds doable, wait for the next rule: A Haiku should convey an image of nature, preferably a quiet, pastoral one: a leaflet slowly descending to the ground, fog lifting from the nearby meadow, or the sound of elks in the distant forest. Well, all these are topics which don’t usually sweep students off their feet! And to make things worse: Nowhere in a Haiku should a person pop up. No I, no they, no trace of yourself or someone else anywhere. A difficult undertaking in times celebrating the “me, myself (or mycell – as my colleague Maryann put it), and I.”

One more thing: Since every syllable counts, they shouldn’t be wasted. Therefore, the -ing ending (at least in the continuous form), the present perfect, or unnecessary connectives are – if not flat out forbidden – at least not desirable. And if this still hasn’t turned you off – a Haiku should consist of a fragment and a phrase. In this respect, the above Haiku is actually a good example since “I finally know why students don’t like Haikus” is a perfectly fine phrase while “too many syllables” would qualify as a fragment.

Last but not least we have the “nice to haves”: internal near rhymes. Haikus don’t rhyme; however, similar sounds (both vowels and consonants) improve the quality of the overall Haiku experience. Look at this one:


Glowing in the sky
the northern light shines brightly
herons passing by                              (Valerie Stampa)


The sound similarity in words, such as sky / light / shines / brightly adds a beautiful tonal quality to the poem.

Now, here are a few examples of Haikus – written by my students – which obey all the above rules:


Green ivy leaves climb
the bark of motionless pines
full moon summer night                    (Alena Gudath)


A flaming cascade
auburn autumn leaves ignite
in streaks of sunlight

Through the blades of grass
the wind whistles wickedly
airy melodies                                     (Vanessa Richter)


A black twisted branch
dances alone in silence
fragment of snowflakes                     (Tak Yu Chau)


What might initially seem too difficult or too boring could actually be a challenging and fun way to think about and use language while activating your creativity. After all you know the saying: “no pain, no gain.”  Why don’t you try for yourself? How difficult can it be to jot down 17 syllables about any nature topic?

And if these Haikus were too traditional for you, wait for the non-traditional Haikus next week!


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