It began as a literary game between two people – the tanka or five line poem. What we know today as Japanese Haiku, the three line poem, is really the hokku, the three line starting verse of the tanka. The first line holds five syllables, the second holds seven and the last, five syllables.
This challenges you to choose your words carefully – much time can be spent in creating this tiny poem. The 5-7-5 rhythm alone will create a Haiku, but for more challenge, creativity and tradition, your Haiku must also contain a kigo, a word telling what season in which the Haiku is set. To make it more fun, if not more difficult, you do not have to physically name the season – but perhaps words that indicate the time of year.
You will also notice when reading Haiku, that is it divided into two parts. Both sections must enrich the understanding of the other. The poem may not always be a complete statement – the reader shall add his own words and imagery, forever changing and re-creating the meaning of the Haiku!
The beauty of Haiku is that such a tiny poem can be subtle, complex and full of inner meanings. Thus it has been for centuries and still it remains popular.
Master the lily
Your growth comes from deep mire
Yet you show beauty
In this Haiku, I think the kigo would be “beauty” as its blooming, so it must be summer. This is based on the symbolism that even though it sits in muck and mire, (like life sometimes) it gets its strength from it and blooms the most amazing flowers. So, if we “master” what the lily teaches, we too, shall “grow” from the muck and mire and bloom!
I remember learning about Haiku in Junior High and I have been a fan since then. Writing the Haiku below, I wanted to add the extra trick of adding a kigo without saying the actual name of the season. Read the two haiku below – what is the kigo?
The koi experts might figure it out – can you?
Sleep deep cold koi
You cannot see the moon glow
Yet glimmer like stars
Jewels of the pond
Hiding under lotus leaves
The bright sun awaits
The first one is deep winter and in the second, spring has come.
To bring out the color in Koi, they can be “wintered over” in mud ponds (so murky they “cannot see the moon glow.”) When you get them out after winter, in the spring (“the bright sun awaits”), they are vibrant “jewels.”
It began as a literary game between two people, give it a try. Writers will find the challenges of writing Haiku an excellent exercise for those “writers block” down times!