Do you know the world’s shortest style of poetry? In Japanese literature, there is a stylised form of poetry that only uses 17 syllables. Haiku(俳句), the world shortest poetry, has its own unique rules and features to tactfully express recognition and hint things with humorous and condenses.

Origins of Haiku

Haiku lies its roots in a larger Japanese poem called renga(連歌). In the late 15th century, jo renga(長連歌) has taken two different routes; one being renga and the other being haikairenga(俳諧連歌). By the time of the Edo period(1603 – 1868), the appearance of a famous poet such as Matsuo Basho(松尾 芭蕉) leads to the trend of haikairenga. This haikairenga is composed of three verses. Hokku(発句), also referred to as starting verse is composed of 17 syllables of 5/7/5. Hokku was considered to be the most important verse out of all three and was often enjoyed on its own. In the Meiji period(1868 – 1912), the poet Masaoka Shiki(正岡 子規) denied the literary value of renga and independently named it haiku, which has been settled and continues to this day.

Writing Haiku

Traditional Japanese haiku must be consisting of three of the following: kireji(切れ字), 17 syllables, and kigo(季語).

Kireji:

Kireji, also known as cutting word, is a hard concept to explain as there is no exact equivalent of kireji in the English language. It is said to supply structural support to the verse. By placing kireji at the end of a verse provides a dignified ending to the verse with a heightened sense of closure. Using it in the middle of the verse indicates that the verse consists of two independent ideas. ‘かな’, ‘や’, and ‘けり’ are the three kireji used in modern haiku.

17 Syllables:

The aspect of 17 syllables is what makes haiku different from other styles of poetry. The structure or 5/7/5 gives a natural rhythm to the poem. This rhyme is a naturally established rhythm from the Japanese characteristic of the opening syllable. This is one of the major reasons why it is hard to find this structure in translated or haikus written in different languages. When the syllables exceed its limit of 5 or 7 it is called jiamari(字余り), directly translating into ‘excess of characters’.

Kigo:

Kigo is a word or phrase that conveys one of the four seasons. The term kigo first appears only in 1908, but a reference to the seasons has been important in poetry; there was no exception to haiku. There are seven different categories of words and phrases to represent each season, and they are 時候(season), 天文(astronomy), 地理(geography), 生活(living), 行事(event), 動物(animal), and 植物(plant).

Spring:

Season – 暖か(warm), 朧月夜(hazy moonlight), 木の芽時(tree bud season), 春暁(Spring dawn), 春昼(Spring noon), 遅日(late day), 春(Spring), 春の朝(morning)

Astronomy – 淡雪(fine snow), 朧月(hazy moon), 陽炎(sun flame), 霞(haze), 風光る(shining wind), 東風(easterly wind)

Geography – 春園(Spring garden), 春潮(Springtide), 春泥(Spring mud), 春田(Spring rice field), 春の池(spring pond), 春の海(spring sea), 春の湖(spring lake)

Living – 青饅(green manju), 胡葱膾(raw onion soup), 朝寝(sleeping in the morning), 伊勢参(Japanese pars), 磯菜摘(picking of isona vegetables)

Event – 開帳(opening), 春祭(spring festival), 遍路(pilgrimage)

Animal – 赤貝(ark shell), 赤鬚(red beard), 貽貝(mussel), 板屋貝(woodpecker), 鶯(nightingale), 貌鳥(bird)

Plant – 石蓴(water shield), 青海苔(green laver), 青麦(green barley), 磯巾着(beach pouch)

Above are some example of spring kigo. This website(Japanese) http://kigosai.sub.jp/001/27701-2 has got a list of kigo for other seasons.

Haiku is a style of poem that represents ancient Japanese verse literature and is widely known around the world. As cultural globalisation progressed after the 20th century, the simplicity and the literary neatness of haiku has shocked Western writers and had a major impact on the development of imagism.

Everyone in the NLCS community, who are busy with their assignments and exams, take a moment to read haiku and find some time to relax in your busy lives; maybe write one for yourself. What would be a better ending to this article rather than a little bit of spring haiku? This is the beauty of 17 syllables.

雪とけて

(The snow has melted)

村いっぱいの

(Seen out throughout the village)

子どもかな

(Children)

– 小林一茶

北国の

(Northern)

鴉が光る

(Crows shine)

風ひかる

(Shining wind)

– 右城暮石

Bees nudged the flowers

Babies peeped out of the nest

One fine crisp morning.

– Arun Bahadur Gurung

Jaeseok Jake Kim
Jaeseok Jake Kim

Student of NLCS Jeju
Chair of NLCS Jeju East Asian Literature Society

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