Author and creative writing tutor, Beth loves helping her students improve their technique.
The Essentials of Writing Haiku
A haiku poem has:
- Three lines
- 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern
- Uneven line length
- They are about nature
- They contain emotion
- The third line describes the result of the actions outlined in lines 1 and 2.
What Is Haiku Poetry?
Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry used to describe nature. It is particularly good at capturing emotions in relation to the seasons. The classic form of haiku poetry writing originated in 17th-century Japan. There are examples of haiku poems published in Europe during the 18th century, but it was not until the late 20th century that writing poems as haiku became popular worldwide.
The first two lines of a haiku should be descriptive, and the final line should contain a conclusion or summary event. Some of the early European and American writers did not stick to the rigid Japanese rules and adopted their own syllable count. You may, therefore, occasionally find examples of haiku that do not conform to the 5, 7, 5 pattern.
These days haiku are usually written as a three-line poem with a total of 17 syllables. These are split so that the first line has five syllables, the second has seven and the third finishes with five syllables.
Haiku Master Matsuo Basho (1644–1694)
One of the earliest Japanese haiku masters was Matsuo Basho. He lived in the seventeenth century. Luckily many of his poems have survived as they are as relevant today as when they were written. This is a translation of one of his poems about the arrival of winter. (In the original Japanese, the syllable count on each line was correct, but this has been altered in order to retain the meaning of the piece rather than its rhythm.)
The first cold shower
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw
I recommend reading Write Your Own Haiku: Poetry in the Japanese Tradition. I found it a great help when I started writing these 3-line poems. It details the traditions of imagery and meter of haiku poetry. It will help you construct a thoughtful and beautiful nature poem.
Haiku are short and bitter-sweet and can be a good way to introduce children to poetry. Anyone can create their own thought-provoking verses and keep more or less within the rules of the haiku tradition.
A Traditional Japanese Poem
Winter solitude -
in a world of one color
the sound of wind
Written by Basho, a 17th century Japanese haiku master.
The Arrival of Winter Weather
Winter brings many changes with colder temperatures and snow in many regions. Snow makes everything very quiet and alters the landscape. Warm clothing and snow boots make it fun to play outside in the snow. Some winter games like building snowmen or throwing snowballs, cannot be done at any other time of year. Here are a couple of haiku I have written on the theme of winter.
This is a haiku poem about the effect of snow in the city.
Snowflakes glitter on
the sidewalk, the sound of cars
swallowed by snowdrifts
This next one is a haiku poem about my love-hate relationship with snow.
So long as there is
somewhere to dry my wet clothes
I enjoy the snow
Have a Go and Write Your Own
Kids and adults can have fun writing haiku. The best way to start writing your own haiku poetry is to put pen to paper and just go for it! Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop. The theme of your haiku can be anything to do with nature. Winter affects nature in so many ways that you will be spoilt for choice. For example, you could concentrate on the weather itself; try snow, ice, or frost. Or you could look at the effect of winter on animals' behavior, like hibernation, migration or changing into winter plumage.
Haiku About Frost Patterns
Children love to see the designs created by the frost on a cold winter's morning. This poem is about the amazing patterns that cold weather paints on windows.
drawings cover my windows;
Jack Frost’s calling card.
Haiku Poems About Cats by Kobayashi Issa
Kobayashi Issa (1763–1828) was a famous Japanese master in the art of writing haiku. The following poem by him is a translation (by an unknown translator) from the Japanese, so the syllable count is not quite the same as the original. However, you can see the overall haiku structure using a nature-based event. The first two lines describe a favorite cat. The final line is an action or conclusion that arises from the initial description.
Arise from sleep, old cat
and with great yawns and stretchings
amble out for love
My version of the same haiku using the 5, 7, 5 pattern is as follows.
Awaken wise cat
yawning and stretching your limbs
ready to seek love
Kobayashi Issa Had Many Names
Kobayashi Issa was also known as Kobayashi Yataro, and Kobayashi Nobuyuki. He also used the pen name Issa. This short form of his name means “a single bubble in a cup of steeping tea.” Here's another haiku about cats by Issa. It was translated by the poet Robert Hass.
the love life of a cat.
Haiku About Snow Storms
A well-constructed haiku is made up of two juxtaposed images (the first two lines), followed by a turning point or cutting moment (the final line). The short poem describes a moment frozen in time.
Getting caught in a snow blizzard can be very frightening. This poem is about the feeling of being lost and disorientated.
Can see no further
than the end of my fingers
That’s not far enough
The next poem is about the silence that descends as snow falls. I wrote it because I feel that snow makes the world turn into an alien place where nothing moves.
A silent blanket
giving earth a duvet day
Nature’s chance to rest
If you initially have an adjective in mind but your syllable count doesn’t quite fit the haiku pattern of five, seven, five syllables, then look for a synonym. The best way to do this is to consult a thesaurus. A thesaurus is a reference book a bit like a dictionary, except that instead of giving the definition of a word, it lists tens or more words that have almost the same meaning as your original one. For example, if you had originally had the adjective “big” but needed a word that has two syllables instead of one, a thesaurus would give you the options of “immense”, “massive” as well as many more.
What Would Be a Good Winter Topic For Haiku?
Haiku poems work best when they are about nature. The winter season has plenty of changes in the weather that affect both animals and plants. Think about how you feel in winter. Are you excited or afraid? Do you dislike the cold or love having to light a log fire?
Think about animals and how they react. Many go into hibernation or slow down to cope with the colder weather. Flowers and leaves are scarce making food difficult to find. Trees and plants form ghostly silhouettes in the dark winter evenings. Remember to include the five senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch in your haiku. That will make them come alive and hold the attention of your reader.
Rules for Writing Haiku Poetry
Rules for writing poetry are there to provide a framework for your thoughts. They are not written in stone, and you can find many examples of haiku that do not conform to them. However, when you are a beginner, the rules will give you focus.
- Subject Matter: A haiku is about nature. It expresses an emotion or event linked to seasonal change.
- Number of Lines: The poem is three lines long.
- Syllable Count: The guide is to have the count as 5, 7, 5, but this is an American and European construct. In traditional Japanese haiku the syllable count may vary.
- Line Length: This form of poetry has uneven lines. This gives the form a jagged rhythm and increases the impact of the final line.