The Haiku – Poetry for Everybody

I have mentioned in my previous post that I used to be a terrible poet. You might be wondering what changed me into a semi-decent poet (that is what I label myself, yes).
I’m interested in literature, poetry included, and one day while watching a Japanese movie, Garden of Words – Kotoha no Niwa, I found a line that I didn’t understand.

Is that a haiku? … No, it’s a tanka.

(reader, this is an excerpt of a dialogue and the three dots signify the other character’s response which is unimportant in this context) And so I googled it. Let me relay the information I found about Haiku.
A Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry based not on rhyme, but on the count of syllables. In Japanese they are usually written in a single vertical line, but since we don’t write vertically, haiku in English (or nearly any other language) are written in three lines – same as the number of verses.
So, as is obvious from the previous sentence, haiku have three verses, which have a syllabic pattern of 5-7-5, let me demonstrate.

Oh, how beautiful
Dawn’s light to my life giving—
A fleeting feeling.

This is one of the first haiku that I wrote and it brings me to the second point of why haiku are so unique. The theme of haiku are based on kigo – seasonal references, which are drawn from a predefined list – a saijiki. These saijiki are divided into five ‘chapters’ one for each season. Yes the saijiki contain a fifth season in addition to the four we know and that is Shinnen – New Year. Please note, reader, there aren’t only seasons in the saijiki. There’s also a dedicated section for non-seasonal kigo called muki. For more information I suggest wikipedia’s article about Saijiki.
Back to haiku! Modern haiku don’t necessarily follow the kigo, so don’t feel obliged to follow them. If you haven’t written any haiku before I recommend you browse a saijiki before writing. Personally, I use the University of Virginia Library’s saijiki, which you can find here.

Now, let’s move on to the next principle of haiku writing, a more interesting one truth be told.

The essence of haiku is “cutting” (kiru). This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.

Kireji are especially interesting because they are such a unique form of writing. Its effect is, as Wikipedia states, juxtaposing two elements yet keeping them related. A kireji is so unique, that it’s effect can’t be replicated in English (reader, I’m sure people tried and I’m sure people will try, but I believe that kireji are unique to Japanese). So, instead of using a kireji we use a dash (wikipedia labels it as an ’em dash’, it is probably called that) after the first idea to separate it from the other one.

There are more principles on haiku writing, but I don’t feel the pressing need to explain them, because they are all pretty minor compared to these two. Now’s the time when I show you some of my own works. Although I have written a fair amount of haiku, most of them are in Slovak which is my native language. Although I feel better when I write in English, I just feel that Slovak is more fitting for writing haiku specifically. Don’t worry though, reader, I have written enough haiku in English as well.

do you hear it too
leaves fall down upon the lake—
voices of autumn

This haiku uses the kireji ‘voices of autumn’ and is based upon what sound represents autumn to me. When someone says ‘autumn’ the first thing I think of is leaves turning yellow and orange and eventually falling down. I live near two rather big lakes and I often go on walks to these lakes, observing the scenery.
One of the magical properties of haiku is that they capture time in the smallest of essence. They capture a single moment – a moment of beauty.

these nights are endless
forsaking the light of day—
alone I will stay

The kireji used is ‘long nights’ which I changed into endless nights for the sake of the syllable count. Many modern haiku writers modify or ignore the syllable count, but I feel that’s part of what makes a haiku a haiku.
Below I’m including the Slovak version of this haiku just for the sake of the last verse which shows how the syllable count influences the poem.

dlhé sú noci
zavrhnuté svetlo dňa—

As you can see, the last verse uses only one word, ‘osamotene’  which means alone. For those interested in how it sounds when read, you can click here to listen to it.

the wind blew away
a completely new color—
petals in the wind

If you haven’t yet found beauty in the haiku, now is the right time to find it. As I have already mentioned, haiku capture a moment, just a split second, just enough time to react. It is like a written picture, it is beautiful.

That is all I have to say about the haiku for now, I hope you’ve found this post interesting and I hope you check back often for more posts!


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