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How to Write the Most Natural 17 Syllable Traditional Haiku

Updated on February 7, 2017
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Haiku attempt to capture nature
Haiku attempt to capture nature | Source

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. You can learn to write about nature by following a few simple guidelines, set out for you later on in the article.

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. 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.

For example.

Butterfly in March

tasting pink cherry blossom-

the flavour of spring.


All of the following haiku are my own originals.

____________________________________________________


Basho the Wandering Haiku Poet

Basho lived in the 17th century 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 distill what he saw and felt into haiku. Zen practioners 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?

______________________________________________________


Toad you've eaten too much.
Toad you've eaten too much. | Source

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?

________________________________________________________________

The author at work.
The author at work. | Source

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.

________________________________________________________


Mouse and radish
Mouse and radish | Source

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.

———————————

Sunset over peaceful pond
Sunset over peaceful pond | Source

Writing 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.

_____________________________________________________


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© 2012 Andrew Spacey

Comments

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  • colorfulone profile image

    Susie Lehto 2 years ago from Minnesota

    This is lovely to read. I enjoyed it very much.

  • Calum Labrador profile image

    Calum Labrador 3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    This hub's really inspiring. Never thought I would see much art in Haiku.

  • Rose Kolowinski profile image

    Rose Kolowinski 4 years ago

    Fascinating hub! Love how you discussed the history and other information about haiku and alternated with your great haiku. I particularly like this one:

    "What have I forgot?

    Nothing. All I need is here -

    nature and silence."

    Fantastic! I really identify with this one being a nature lover and a nature photographer. Keep the great hubs coming!

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    That's very kind KrisL, I appreciate your sharing very much. I plan to do much more 'running into' other hubs over the next few weeks. Sounds fun and it's always a booster.

  • KrisL profile image

    KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

    I just ran into this one again and I'm sharing it with my followers. You found such wonderful pictures to go with the fine haiku, your own and others.

  • Vivian-tmt-hnp profile image

    Vivian-tmt-hnp 5 years ago from USA.

    6:25pm Wednesday July 11, 2012

    Dear chef-de-jour,

    Thank for your writing.

    Vivian

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you for the votes, I really appreciate them. It's amazing that amongst all the zillions of syllables spoken and written each day just 17 can mean so much to so many. Good haiku-ing!

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    You are very welcome. Good to know that you're writing haiku - keep at it and never stop! Observation,feelings, ideas, meanderings can all be expressed in haiku. They become potent.

    Much appreciate your visit.

  • Olde Cashmere profile image

    Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

    Outstanding hub on Haiku poetry. Writing haiku poems has become one of my favorite hobbies after reading many on this site. Thank you for writing so well on the subject, I found this very inspiring. Voted up, awesome, useful, and interesting.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you for your comment GoldCoastSun. Keep it simple, yes, I agree that sometimes the soul craves for just the basics in life and doesn't care for all the clutter that we surround ourselves with!

  • Gulf Coast Sun profile image

    Gulf Coast Sun 5 years ago from Gulf of Mexico

    Thank you for a lovely form of poetry. I love everything pure and simple, as in fine paintings. It's another way of finding your soul. Kathleen

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    You are welcome Angelo52 and many thanks for the visit. It's a bit mind boggling when you think of all the many thousands of people concentrating on writing haiku! Wonderful. From traditional to haiku nouveau!

  • Angelo52 profile image

    Angelo52 5 years ago from Central Florida

    I find writing haikus to be a very enjoyable form of poetry. Mine are almost all about nature. Perhaps not as deep as the poems you used to illustrate your article. Thanks for the history and examples.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Haiku are wonderful little things. Imagine being able to give a poetic form to the world? Is there anything more precious?

    Thanks for the comment, visit and votes and have a great 4th July.

  • Victoria Lynn profile image

    Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

    Great examples and clear descriptions of how to create a haiku. I love yours. Are your drawings also original? Lovely hub. Many votes and sharing!

  • anglnwu profile image

    anglnwu 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing the haiku of Basho--certainly beautiful and thought-provoking. Enjoyed this hub and rated up.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Sounds good.

    This concept of holding the moment or second of time in a 3 line poem is so appealing and yet curiously difficult to attain.It's almost as if haiku are concentrated bits of life - that's why I find reading only a few at any one time is enough. Then life isn't so diluted!

    Yes. 5-7-5 is the traditional way and can be fruitful for a writer but I'm open to progress - slow progress - if the quality is still maintained.

    regards.

  • KrisL profile image

    KrisL 5 years ago from S. Florida

    Just noticed you wrote on haiku, as I have been. Your own two are great examples.

    I'm linking to yours in a hub of mine on writing haiku . . . Although there I mention that most English-language haiku journals etc. don't go with 5-7-5, it can still be a good challenge for the poet.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Haiku have evolved greatly since those early Japanese examples when they were more an expression of Zen thinking/feeling - capturing moments of observation in nature and everyday life (Basho's haiku are wonderful)-On Love and Barley - so I think we all strive and struggle to find that ideal form when writing haiku, which is how it should be. 5-7-5 syllable count is a challenge if you want to stick to the traditional ways - Basho himself broke this time honoured rule occasionally- and there is supposed to be a reflective/philosophical line at the end? A wonderful invention I have to admit, organic yet needing discipline.

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

    Wonderful examples of the art form--a form that I think quite difficult to execute well--