Understanding & Celebrating the Art of Haiku Poetry

If you were not aware today is Nation Haiku Poetry day!

To celebrate, I decided to spend my day embracing everything that is Haiku poetry. I spent the perfect day relaxing, researching, and reading everything I could about this art form. I have gathered information from its history and its developing format to who the faces of haiku. There are some amazing sites that can help you celebrate on your own.

What actually is a Haiku poem?

The basic definition of a haiku is, a shot form of Japanese poetry which emphasized simplicity, intensity, and a directness of expression, all in three phrases.

In 17th century Japan, it was actually know as a hokku. It was only given its current name, Haiku, in the 19th century when writer, Masaoka Shiki, reinvented the art form itself.

There are four qualities of a haiku poem that sets them apart from other forms of poetry:

  1. The theme of a haiku is usually formed around nature in some way.
  2. The format of a haiku consists of three phrases (lines)
    • The first phrase has a total of five moraes, also known as syllables.
    • The middle phrase has a total of seven moraes.
    • The last phrase goes back to a total of five moraes.
  3. The kireji (cutting word)
    • The kireji should show emphasis between two objects, images, or ideas.
    • It should signal to the reader, a moment of separation between the two related subjects.
    • Usually the kireji makes its appearance at the end of one of the three phrases, either giving it:
      • The purpose of briefly ‘cutting’ the thought process from the reader.
      • The suggestion of a parallel between the phrases before and after.
      • The ability to signal an abrupt end that allows the senses to heighten at its closure.
  4. The kigo (seasonal reference)
    • This seasonal reference usually comes from an extensive, defined list of seasonal terms and is know as the saijiki.

In more modern haiku poetry you will see that sometimes these qualities are stretched and stray away from the classic form of haiku. Modern day haikus still lead the same philosophies as their classical forms, the hokku.


Throughout history there have been four noteworthy haiku poets known as…

The Great Four:

Matsumoto Basho is thought to be the greatest master of haiku (hokku in his time). He was known in the Edo period of Japan and really only acknowledged his genius in the art of renku, which would be different haiku verses linked together, essentially forming haiku stanzas. He lived out most of his life adventuring through Japan and publishing his findings.

Autumn moonlight—

A worm digs silently

Into the chestnut

Autumn Moonlight- Matsumoto Basho

Yosa Buson was a well known Japanese painter and followed very close to Basho’s footsteps. Which gave him the position he had with in Edo period, Japan. He also spent most of the rest of his life roaming around Japan and publishing his works of his journey.

the light of a candle

Is transferred to another candle

Spring twilight

The light of a candle- Yosa Buson

Kobayashi Issa was a known artist and poet in the Edo period, Japan just like those above him on this list. He was a standout haiku poet because of his irreverence and wry humor throughout his poetry.

In spring rain

A pretty girl

Yawning

In spring rain- Kobayashi Issa

Masaoka Shiki was a major figure in Meiji period, Japan. He is best known for the development into modern day haiku poetry. He is the one who changed the name from hokku to haiku, in the 19th century.

A lightning flash

Between the forest trees

I have seen water

A lightning flash- Masaoka Shiki

I am adding a fifth because I feel this women should be recognized too.

Fukuda Chiyo-ni is also an Edo period, Japan poet. She is known to be the greatest women haiku poet of all time. She is a huge influential figure to all women of haiku.

rouged lips

Forgotten—-

Clear spring water

Rouged lips- Fukuda Chiyo-ni

While I was browsing and retaining all this information I found some cool ways to celebrate National Haiku Poetry Day, right from where you are.

More ways to celebrate haikus

  • If you love science than I stumbled upon the perfect form of haikus for you. Mary Soon Lee has created the Elemental Haiku and I came across it on sciencemag.org
    • She took all of the elements on the periodic table and formed haikus out of them. It is magical.
    • Example: Ne^10: Neon— there’s no shame in it; advertising pays the bills; stop looking so red
  • Visit poets.org for all the information you need for haiku poets/poems and other forms of poetry. This website is perfect for all my history buffs out there.

I hope that I gave you a sneak peak into the art of haiku poetry! Hopefully some of you learned some new things today and take that information to further celebrate this beautiful form of art.

Jessie Val

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