How to Write Natural 17 Syllable Traditional Haiku
Haiku and Nature
Traditional Haiku With 17 Syllables
Traditional haiku are perfect for taking a snapshot of the natural world. Everyday phenomena can be captured and preserved in a few perceptive words. I hope to show how simple it is to compose a traditional haiku - anyone can do it.
I was given a book some years ago titled Basho - On Love and Barley, a collection of his haiku. Inside were hundreds of examples, translated into English and illustrated with traditional Japanese sketches by Taiga. I was inspired. The art of capturing nature was staring me in the face. Short poems, each a masterpiece in their own right.
Traditionally haiku usually have three lines containing 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the middle and 5 in the third. But did you know that some lovers of poetry dispute this? They say that in the original Japanese haiku the syllables don't number 17. According to them, in the process of translation from Japanese to English some of the essence is lost.
I for one don't think that this should put people off composing haiku in the traditional manner.
Butterfly in March
tasting pink cherry blossom-
the flavour of spring.
All of the following haiku are my own originals
How To Write A Haiku
If you are inspired to attempt to compose haiku then I suggest the following -
* find somewhere secluded and quiet
* in silence observe what is around you
* have a pen and paper handy
* write down anything that comes into your head and is an immediate fresh observation, reaction or feeling
* when you're through contemplating, work on the writing to shape it into 3 lines
* do not worry about syllables at this juncture
* work on the syllabic content - 5.7.5
* finalise a draft version or versions, read through and keep safe
* return soon and polish it off.
Keep working at your haiku. If nothing comes out first time don't fret or get frustrated. In my humble experience if you keep all your written work safe and work on it you will get fruitful results.
The primary aim is to get out into nature, then to cultivate a mind that can focus on the essential elements of any given scene and use them creatively.
Basho the Wandering Haiku Poet
Basho lived in 17th century Japan and although true to haiku tradition and formality did break with convention from time to time, daring to use 18 syllables in some creations.
He was strongly influenced by Zen philosophy and lived his life as a simple wandering poet, with few possessions. His aim was to unite nature and art through silent contemplation and to distil what he saw and felt into haiku.
Zen practitioners attempted to become the subject they were concentrating on, be it a tree, a frog, a melon or a field of barley.
Blackfly on my book.
If I turn the big white page
will he form a word?
Haiku, Nature and Basho's Philosophy
It is fascinating to think about this deeply artistic man wandering the roads and tracks of Japan 'wanting only to capture the beauty of flowers and birds.' Nowadays I suppose he would be viewed as some kind of hippy, a drop out from society. There is a school of thought however that places him in the naturalist camp, a person devoted to the study of the natural world. I'm not so sure about this. Naturalists tend to be scientists at heart and are always looking to analysis for their answers. Basho the poet in my eyes was just the opposite. He looked for the one-ness in the world. His haiku have compressed experience in them yet they are light and full of humour.
Toad sits under rock
fat with evening slug and worm.
Where next appetite?
17 Syllables In A Haiku
Basho was certainly a master of the genre. His gem-like masterpieces inspired other writers like Buson and Issa who followed in his footsteps and produced wondrous haiku, again mainly about the natural world.
The influence didn't stop there. Although originating in Japan hundreds of years ago, haiku are now common place in the modern poetic sphere. Poets find the double challenge of form and discipline irresistible - to use 17 syllables in as philosophical a way as possible does have rare appeal. Perhaps it is the idea of creating a perfect reflection of nature that spurs the poet on.
What have I forgot?
Nothing. All I need is here -
nature and silence.
Haiku And The Timeless Theme of Nature
Haiku have evolved into the 21st century - there are many variations on a theme of 17 - but are they still relevant in this age of celebrity, narcissism and global awareness?
The answer has to be an emphatic yes, they are more relevant then ever. In a time of superficiality, trivia and ignorance of natural surroundings surely a balance is needed? Haiku offer an individual the chance to express hidden thoughts and feelings, as well as humour and respect.
Dessicated mouse -
caught in the garden suntrap,
two dry feet praying.
Basho - On Love and Barley, Penguin, 1985
You can find more original poems here
© 2012 Andrew Spacey