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Haiku and Three-Line Nature Poems: Facts and Examples

Linda Crampton is a teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. Her favourite genres are classic literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

The Nature of Haiku

A haiku is an often interesting and sometimes powerful poem. It consists of just three lines, but this doesn't necessarily mean that it's simple. A haiku is an expression of an observation or an experience in a brief moment of time. It's generally a nature poem and often includes vivid imagery. It frequently contains a seasonal reference and juxtaposition of different images or ideas. Sometimes the connection between the ideas is quickly understood. At other times, identifying the connection may require more contemplation. Occasionally, the contemplation may enable the reader to discover a relationship that hasn’t occurred to them before.

Haiku originated in Japan and has become popular in other countries. The word "haiku" is both singular and plural. Some writers have modified the pattern of the poetry by moving away from the traditional five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. The lines are still short, however, and the traditional juxtaposition often remains. Though some writers omit the technique, "cutting" the poem into two sections via juxtaposition is often considered to be important in the haiku tradition. Creating haiku can be an enjoyable challenge.

As the form has evolved, many of its regular traits—including its famous syllabic pattern—have been routinely broken. However, the philosophy of haiku has been preserved: the focus on a brief moment in time; a use of provocative, colorful images; an ability to be read in one breath; and a sense of sudden enlightenment.

— The poetry.org website (from the Academy of American Poets)

Syllable Count in Japanese and English Haiku

The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual event in Vancouver, British Columbia. A haiku competition is associated with the event. The festival's website contains an interesting article. The writer says that in Japan a 5-7-5 syllable pattern for haiku is still used. He or she also says that this pattern is often ignored outside of Japan, as some other sources indicate. The change is at least partly due to the fact that when a Japanese haiku is translated into English, the new version rarely has the 5-7-5 syllable pattern.

Some people still use the traditional syllable pattern to write English-language haiku. They may enjoy the challenge of using a specific number of syllables in their poetry and may feel that the strategy is more authentic than the use of shorter lines. Other people write lines that contain fewer syllables and are more succinct, as the example poems do and as I have done in my first set of poems below.

A Kigo and a Kireji

Although a different syllable count may be used, two traditions followed by Japanese haiku writers are followed by many people who write English-language haiku today. Traditional Japanese haiku contains a kigo and a kireji. English haiku often contains these devices or a writing technique that serves a similar function.

A Kigo or Seasonal Word

A kigo is a word that sets the poem in a particular season. The season may be named. Even when the season isn't specifically mentioned in a haiku, however, a hint about the approximate time of year often appears in the poem.

A Kireji or Juxtaposition

A haiku frequently contains a cut or juxtaposition that separates the poem into two halves. In Japanese, the separation is usually performed by a specific word, or kireji. In English, it's often done by punctuation (such as an em dash, an ellipsis, or a semicolon) or by a line break.

Juxtaposition in a Haiku

Ferris Gilli, a haiku writer and teacher, has written an article about juxtaposition that contains some interesting points. (The article is referenced below.) One point that she's raised is that in meaningful juxtaposition, each section of the haiku should have no "fundamental connection" to the other part and should be understandable on its own.

Even though the two sections of a haiku may be different at a fundamental level, they must have some connection. Understanding the connection, or experiencing "the sense of sudden enlightenment" that the quote above mentions, is part of the joy of reading many haiku.

Rivers and other aspects of nature can be inspiring for poets.

Rivers and other aspects of nature can be inspiring for poets.

On a branch

floating downriver

a cricket, singing.

— Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), translated by Jane Hirshfield

Examples of the Poetry Style

In Kobayashi Issa's poem above, the first two lines belong together because they refer to a branch and its behaviour. The third line cuts to the somewhat surprising image of a cricket singing on the branch. A cricket is fundamentally different from a branch, yet in this poem the two items have a connection.

The third line of the poem could stand on its own and could be the start of a new poem. The Asian Topics section of the Columbia University website says that this is an important characteristic of the cut in a traditional haiku. The cutting line is sometimes placed at the start of the poem instead of the end.

In Maria Steyn's poem below, the last line at first may seem to be unrelated to the other two and is another example of juxtaposition. For me, the line links the idea of the golden light of late-season honey with the light of the autumn sun. One of the joys of haiku is that one reader may have a different understanding of the connection between the ideas in the poem from another reader or even from the writer.

Maria's poem starts with a lowercase letter and doesn't end in a period. This is often done to show that a haiku has captured a moment in time and that it's connected to what happened before and is open to what will happen afterwards.

the slow drip

of honey on bread . . .

late-autumn sun

— Maria Steyn

An Example From a Poetry Journal

The Heron's Nest is an online haiku journal that ceased publication in 2012. The poems in the journal are still available, however. I discovered the example below in the journal's February 2000 edition. I love the fact that the writer has created such vivid imagery in just three short lines. Each line provides its own image and the three lines together produce another one.

An Internet search for haiku websites, journals, or magazines brings up an interesting list of sites, many of which have been recently updated. Their haiku are interesting to read and are often educational and/or inspirational. It's enjoyable to read the poems and to analyze the techniques used by the writer. A good poem can be enjoyed whether or not it follows prescribed rules.

night of stars

all along the precipice

goat bells ring

— an'ya, via The Heron's Nest, Volume II, Number 2

Nature can be a great inspiration for a haiku.

Nature can be a great inspiration for a haiku.

Following Rules for Writing Haiku

Some people find that following a set of rules for a piece of creative writing is an interesting challenge. Others find the process restrictive or even harmful with respect to what they are trying to achieve. They may find that forcing themselves to reach a certain number of syllables in a line of a particular haiku spoils the poem, for example. Another possibility is that they may feel that the use of strong juxtaposition is unsuitable for a particular poem or that it's jarring for the reader.

Some sources say that a haiku "must" contain a total of 17 syllables. Others say that this isn't essential and that other features of a haiku are more important to emphasize. The Vancouver Cherry Blossom festival is not concerned about whether the winning poems in their haiku competition follow the 5-7-5 syllable pattern and accepts multiple types, as can be seen in the video below. The poems are no longer than 17 syllables in total, however. Most people would agree that very long lines are beyond the style of a haiku.

The rules that should be followed to create a modern haiku (as opposed to those used for a historical one) are ultimately up to the writer. An exception would be if a particular website, competition, journal, or other organization that accepts haiku requires or expects specific rules to be followed.

The sections below show some of my haiku. The poems in the first set follow the more succinct style that is popular in many places outside of Japan today. The poems in the second set follow the 5-7-5 syllable rule, with the exception of one poem that contains a shorter line.

Haiku

Purple grapes

sweet and succulent

an arbor of love


Autumn leaves

in the colour of the sun

feed the Earth


Branches bare and gaunt

decorate the sky ...

life in disguise


The crow descends

and observes

humanity in winter


Spring whispers;

crocuses stir

and meet the sun

Northwestern crows have always seemed to be somewhat mysterious birds to me.

Northwestern crows have always seemed to be somewhat mysterious birds to me.

Three-Line Poems

Fruits for summer wine

berries ripening in the sun

finches flit and sing


Sun-warmed and content

in languid serenity

the cat basks in dreams


Rain falls on the trail

plants slake their summer thirst

Earth exhales her scent


Sparkling flakes of snow

bejewelled by the winter sun

kissing icicles

The scent of the Earth that I mention in the third poem above is called petrichor. It's a distinctive and earthy scent released by dry soil when rain hits it. The smell is created by a mixture of volatile plant oils and a chemical called geosmin that is produced by soil bacteria.

An Interesting and Enjoyable Challenge

Whatever rules one decides to follow or omit, writing haiku is an interesting challenge. For someone who loves nature as well as poetry, the challenge can be irresistible. The process may not be easy, but the attempt to write a haiku poem and improve one's skills can be enjoyable. Reading haiku created by others is also enjoyable. A poem containing only three short lines may have a lot to offer for both a writer and a reader.

References

  • Haiku and its history from the Asian Topics section of the Columbia University website
  • The Power of Juxtaposition by Ferris Gilli via the New Zealand Poetry Society
  • Haiku facts from the Poetry Foundation
  • Information about haiku from the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website
  • Haiku definition, facts, and examples from the American Society of Poets

© 2020 Linda Crampton

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 22, 2020:

Alicia, not at all, please.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 22, 2020:

Thank you for sharing the lovely description, Miebakagh,

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 22, 2020:

I agreed. And I imagine my boyhood days. Perhaps, it was when the Sun was at His peak under big mama big mango tree, or at night when Queen Moon shone brightly. We boys would be singing a few lines. The girls with they mermaid voices will respond. It was rejuvenating when we take our siesta or going to bed at night.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 21, 2020:

Thank you very much for the comment, Rajan. I think haiku offers a lot of possibilities for writers and readers.

Rajan Singh Jolly on June 21, 2020:

It's so fascinating to see that so much can be said in a haiku. Thanks for throwing more light on haikus. I loved your haikus and poems.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 17, 2020:

Linda, you're welcomed. I do, and thanks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 17, 2020:

Thank you very much for the comment, Miebakagh. I hope you enjoy creating haiku. I think it's a lovely type of poetry. I hope you stay safe as well.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 17, 2020:

Linda, thanks for introducing me to haiku. It is something I am curious about for some time. Now, I have the chance. As I read and after reading your story, I compose a line, then two, and a third. I congratula myself for the feat. But, I am not in a hurrah to publish. I want it to be something like a feature piece, or rather promote to LetterPile. So, I am taking my time, okay? Thanks again, Linda, and stay save.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 08, 2020:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, bhattuc.

bhattuc on May 08, 2020:

Excellent article on haiku. Very informative. I would come back to it soon for my subsequent comment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 25, 2020:

Thanks, DreamerMeg. I appreciate your visit.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on April 25, 2020:

Great article. I never heard of the term petrichor before. It's nice to know the word for that lovely smell.

Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 29, 2020:

You are truly welcome Linda

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 29, 2020:

Thank you very much for such a kind comment.

Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 29, 2020:

This is a very informative hub...im fascinated with haiku and will use this article as a reference

Awesome stuff

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 26, 2020:

Thank you for the visit and such a kind comment, Nithya.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 26, 2020:

Great article about haiku, so well explained with detailed examples. I enjoyed reading your haiku and the three-lined poems. Double thumbs up!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 14, 2020:

Hi, Shaloo. Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.

Shaloo Walia from India on March 14, 2020:

Very informative...and the haikus you penned are beautiful.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 07, 2020:

Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Mitara.

Mitara N from South Africa on March 07, 2020:

I pictured it all, just as you have expressed it! Breath taking!

Such an inspiring read

Thank you

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 03, 2020:

Thank you very much, Flourish. I like flexibility, too.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 03, 2020:

I appreciated all the information about haiku and three lined pins. You really have talent in expressing yourself in this way. I like the nature themes. I’m not too much for overly restrictive rules and prefer some level of flexibility.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 29, 2020:

Thank you very much, Rosina. I appreciate your kindness.

Rosina S Khan on February 29, 2020:

I loved this hub, Linda, reading about the history of Haiku and your own Haiku poems. Wonderful hub- truly appreciated.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 27, 2020:

Thank you for such a kind comment, Genna. I appreciate your visit and your words very much.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 27, 2020:

Just a wonderful article, Linda...and the Haiku are splendid, written by someone with a oneness with nature that is beautiful. Thank you for this. :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 26, 2020:

Thank you very much, Nell. I think petrichor is lovely, too. It's one enjoyable aspect of rain after a dry spell!

Nell Rose from England on February 26, 2020:

I love the smell, but never realized it was named.petrichor before. I loved your Haiku and three-lined poems. The information about that was fascinating too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 26, 2020:

Thank you very much for the visit and the kind comment, Eiddwen.

Eiddwen from Wales on February 26, 2020:

What a well written and researched hub Linda. Interesting and beneficial. Thank you so much for sharing. Great work.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 23, 2020:

Thank you, Liza. Haiku is an interesting and enjoyable topic to explore.

Liza from USA on February 23, 2020:

You have shared one of the intriguing topic, Linda. I confess that I never heard of Haiku. The facts and the examples have shown a well-thorough of research and knowledge you have. Thanks for sharing this, Linda.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 22, 2020:

Thank you very much for the kind comment, Rochelle.

Rochelle Ann De Zoysa from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka on February 22, 2020:

Writing Haiku is a bit challenging for me :) Beautiful poetry and informative article :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2020:

Thank you, Bill. I hope you have a great weekend, too.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 20, 2020:

I had no idea there were specific rules for haiku, certainly makes it a little more challenging. Thank you for the education, I learned something new today! Have a great weekend, Linda.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 19, 2020:

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Rebecca, Haiku is an interesting and enjoyable tradition.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on February 19, 2020:

Wow, those terms are interesting. Writing (and reading) Haikus are lots of fun. Thanks for the inspiration!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2020:

Thank you, Chitrangada. Don't be afraid about breaking rules! Poetry can be very enjoyable even if it doesn't completely match a certain style.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 17, 2020:

Thank you very much, Manatita. I appreciate your visit and your kind comment!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 17, 2020:

You explained everything about Haikus, so well.

Honestly, I didn’t know about it earlier, that is before joining HubPages. I haven’t tried composing Haiku, because I fear, I might break some rules. May be one day, I would try it.

You have composed some beautiful Haikus here.

Thanks for sharing.

manatita44 from london on February 17, 2020:

You have done a thorough Job Linda C. A masterful piece explaining much, if not all of the different view points with examples. Your own work is awesome too. So glad to see you stepping out of the science for a spell. Marvellous!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2020:

Thank you very much for the comment, Denise. You don't need to worry about rules if you want to write poetry. You could follow one or more common haiku techniques (if you wish) without calling the poetry haiku. The same point applies to other types of poetry. You don't have to follow any rules at all if you don't want to!

Blessings to you, too, Denise.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on February 16, 2020:

I have never been much good at poetry and so I admire those who are. The rules of this form of poetry seem so daunting but then I see the beauty when they are followed. What a great image: The Earth exhales!

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2020:

Thank you very much, Chris. I'm looking forward to reading the article if you create it!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on February 16, 2020:

Linda, Thanks for the excellent instructions on writing haiku. I may have tried it a time or two, but now I am inspired. Watch for my haiku hub in the future. haha.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 16, 2020:

Thanks, Liz. Haiku is an interesting form of poetry.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 16, 2020:

I first came across the word, 'haiku' here on Hub Pages. You have given a good explanation and great examples.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Hi, Heidi I hope you find time to write haiku again at some point. It's an enjoyable activity. Thanks for the comment.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 14, 2020:

I've always been fascinated by haiku. Did a whole collection of them for sophomore English in high school. Sadly, I didn't keep them. Oh well...

I do want to try it again one day. I just have too much other stuff to write.

Thanks for the great review of the haiku tradition!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thanks, Peggy. I appreciate your visit and comment. Watching my cats sleeping was the inspiration for the haiku. Even when they are asleep, they are interesting to observe!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 14, 2020:

Thanks for the descriptions of the rules related to writing haiku poetry. You did a great job writing yours. It made me remember our cats basking in the sunlight and dreaming whatever was in their mind at the time. I could almost smell the earth after a refreshing rain!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thanks, Devika. I always appreciate your comments.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 14, 2020:

Great way to go and you did well on Haikus you have informed me of the writing style of an haiku.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thank you, Maren. I love the challenge of writing haiku, too, as well as the smell of soil!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thanks, Linda. I think that haiku can be meaningful and beautiful, too. It's very interesting to see what writers create in only three lines!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on February 14, 2020:

Great article. I love the challenge of writing haiku, although I do not confine myself to nature topics. (also, I love the smells of soil!)

Linda Chechar from Arizona on February 14, 2020:

Wonderful traditional haiku poetry. It's meaningful and beautiful! Thanks for sharing the explanation of the haiku rules.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thank you very much, Bill. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thanks, Pamela. Haiku is an interesting form of poetry. I think it has a lot to offer us, even though the poems in the tradition are short.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 14, 2020:

Thank you very much for comment, John. I appreciate your visit and your kindness,

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 14, 2020:

You not only explain it all well, but you write it well "as well." :) Thanks for the education and Happy Weekend to you!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 14, 2020:

This is a very interesting article as I really didn't understand the rules for Haiku. I like what your wrote, Linda. I think your haiku are very good based on the description of the rules.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 14, 2020:

What a wonderful article, Linda. This was very informative and told me a lot about haiku that I wasn't aware. I loved yours by the way. Good job.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 13, 2020:

Thank you very much, Verlie. I appreciate the comment a great deal, especially coming from you!

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on February 13, 2020:

Really good synopsis of the Haiku form Linda! Your examples are lovely. And your own pieces are beautiful. I can't pick a favorite.

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