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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