What is a Haiku Poem?

Haiku was a Japanese form of poetry which was originally used as game of words used by merchants and lower class men. Later on Matsuo Basho, Issa and others developed it into one of the purest forms of poetry.

 What attracts me to the haiku is the sheer brevity of it. You can call it the short story of a long poem. No wonder why modern, fast paced culture has readily accepted it. It is really a poem stripped to its bare essentials- no articles, no pronouns, no complete sentence, just enough words for you to get into the mood.

So how does a haiku look like? Well a haiku has consists of seventeen syllables (mostly) arranged in three lines. The images you use in a haiku are usually of the home and garden type. Nothing exotic, unearthly or uncommon. But a clever haiku poet will sees the ordinary in an extraordinary light. Common images used by haiku are dragonflies, ants, fishes, flamingo, etc. Remember that the images come from something that we have experienced. These images mostly give us a hint into the climate and season in which the incident occurred. The images are usually low in number. Three at the most.

 A haiku does not go after only beauty. It is an attempt to describe the world as it is. But haiku poets usually avoid anything that is excessively violent and excessively erotic. In fact the tone of a haiku is usually contemplation and not exhilaration or ecstasy.

 Another important thing to note about a haiku is its punctuation. A haiku usually avoids three continuous run on lines. It has a break (caesura) somewhere in the end of the first line, or in the middle of the second line or in the end of that line.

One of the main features of a good haiku poem is the feeling of meditation, and a supernatural loneliness. Listen to the words of Basho:

A monk sips morning tea
its quite
the chrysanthemums flowering.

Somewhere the monks earthly tea drinking action creates a heavenly meditation like atmosphere accentuated by the stillness of the morning. Notice also the comparison between the monks tea drinking with chrysanthemums inherent reference to sunlight drinking! We can also notice how Basho uses an earthly object like a chrysanthemum as metaphor for the cosmological concepts.

Here is another great poem written be Basho:

A caterpillar,
this deep in fall—
still not a butterfly.

This one obviously reminds me of Kafka’s metamorphosis.

Now read this one written by me:

Summer night.
the cats arch their back to fight,

How do you interpret this haiku? Please write as a comment.

Last words: Similar haiku poems of Basho given here can be read at www.poemhunter.com/ check out the site since they got a huge collection of haiku poems.