Haiku and Three-Line Nature Poems: Facts and Examples

Updated on February 13, 2020
AliciaC profile image

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

Haiku often describes nature.
Haiku often describes nature. | Source

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. Barry Goodmann is a writer, poet, and editor who has written an article on the festival's website. He says that in Japan a 5-7-5 syllable pattern for haiku is still used. He also says that this pattern is often ignored outside of Japan, as some other sources say. 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 Japanese cherry tree
A Japanese cherry tree | Source

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. | Source

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

Another Example

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. | Source

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

A northwestern crow (Corvus caurinus)
A northwestern crow (Corvus caurinus) | Source

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

Rain on the trail
Rain on the trail | Source

An Interesting 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 Barry Goodmann via the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website
  • Haiku definition, facts, and examples from the American Society of Poets

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Linda Crampton

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        47 hours ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Vellur profile image

        Nithya Venkat 

        47 hours ago from Dubai

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • swalia profile image

        Shaloo Walia 

        2 weeks ago from India

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Mitara.

      • MitaraN profile image

        Mitara N 

        3 weeks ago from South Africa

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

        Such an inspiring read

        Thank you

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • surovi99 profile image

        Rosina S Khan 

        3 weeks ago

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        4 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

        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. :-)

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        4 weeks ago from England

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 

        4 weeks ago from Wales

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • lizmalay profile image

        Liza 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the kind comment, Rochelle.

      • rdsparrowriter profile image

        Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

        5 weeks ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        5 weeks ago from Massachusetts

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        5 weeks ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        5 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

        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 profile image

        manatita44 

        5 weeks ago from london

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        5 weeks ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • cam8510 profile image

        Chris Mills 

        5 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        5 weeks ago from UK

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        6 weeks ago from Chicago Area

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks, Devika. I always appreciate your comments.

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        6 weeks ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 Morgan M-T profile image

        Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

        6 weeks ago from Pennsylvania

        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!)

      • lindacee profile image

        Linda Chechar 

        6 weeks ago from Arizona

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

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

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        6 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        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.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        6 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • snakeslane profile image

        Verlie Burroughs 

        6 weeks ago from Canada

        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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