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How to Write Haiku: Moving Beyond 5-7-5

Updated on May 22, 2012
Haiku are inspired by nature.
Haiku are inspired by nature.

A haiku poem is so short, is must be easy, right? I mean, a poet just needs to write a poem that has three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count, right? WRONG! Both misconceptions are so rooted in American haiku that it is difficult to find information about haiku that does not contain this misinformation.

First of all, let’s address the syllable count. Haiku does not need to follow a 5-7-5 format. It is better to think of haiku as having a maximum syllable count of 17 syllables. The idea of haiku is to concisely express a moment in time.

If haiku does not need to have a 5-7-5 syllable count, does that mean that there are no strict rules for writing haiku? Actually, there are a few rules that are often ignored by people teaching others to write haiku.

Haiku must:

-express only a single moment in nature

-contain at least one seasonal word

-avoid anthropomorphism

-avoid value judgment or interpretation of the scene

When writing haiku, it might be helpful to imagine taking a snapshot of a nature scene. This description of a single moment in time is a crucial rule of haiku. When describing the scene, the poet should avoid any form of value judgment such as using words like best, tallest, beautiful, etc. The idea is to present the scene and allow the readers to draw their own conclusions. Therefore, the poet should not dictate a philosophical meaning to the scene in the haiku. Present the scene and allow the readers to find their own meaning in it.

Haiku must contain a season word. This word can be the name of a season or a word that alludes to the season. It could be an animal, flower, or fruit that is associated with the season. The season word can be an element of weather that is common in the season such as ice, snow, rain, thunder, etc.

Avoiding anthropomorphism is important. In a haiku, do not depict emotions or human attributes to an animal. The idea of haiku is to describe the scene as it is, not with human interpretations of what is happening underneath the surface. Therefore, saying an animal is pensive, fearful, or anything other than what is on the surface is destroying the integrity of the form.

Haiku often describes the moment there is a shift in action, focus, or perspective. This dramatic shift gives the reader the feeling that the moment captured is a philosophical one. This shift should have meaning to the poet, though the poet needs to resist the urge to express their interpretation.

Writing a good haiku is not as easy as one would think. It takes clear, concise language, practice, and attention to these rules. Even though writing haiku can be frustrating at times because one must resist the urges to include value judgments or interpretations of the scene, it can be a very rewarding experience.

Please visit my other article for more information: Haiku Rules


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    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you, Kris.

    • KrisL profile image


      7 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, Sheila!

      I just linked to your hub in mine on good links for learning to write haiku.

    • Mysticalmoon profile image


      7 years ago from Idaho Falls, ID

      That reminds I was taught the 5-7-5 rule. However, as your Hub pointed out, that is not the case anymore.

      I have posted your Hub link on my little community board on Facebook. You will probably get more visitors showing up anytime soon :)

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      That's okay. I think anyone who cares about the haiku form has their own pet peeves or beliefs about haiku. My pet peeve is the 5-7-5 syllable count. I just hate that people teach that as a necessity for haiku. If you ever see someone say that, feel free to give them this link! LOL

    • Mysticalmoon profile image


      7 years ago from Idaho Falls, ID

      Yes, that does.

      I guess I am just to old

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      That is a good point, Mysticalmoon. The use of a hyphen or comma to mark the change in focus is one of those guidelines that seems to have fallen out of fashion. The punctuation that English poets use in haiku isn't equivalent to the traditional Japanese form in which a verbal expression is used to mark the contrast or shift. My recommendation would be to make the separation of the images clear in the descriptions rather than relying on punctuation. I hope that helps!

    • Mysticalmoon profile image


      7 years ago from Idaho Falls, ID

      When I was learning to write Haiku's we had to place a none verbal speration of movement. However, I have seen many Haiku's that do not have this speration of movement. I guess I am old fashioned and get frustrated when I don't see a comma or a semi-colon. Do you have any suggestions to the new writer's about speration of movement?

      This hub was informative and easy to follow. Good job!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi I wrote a haiku but I'm not sure if it's good :

      Spring is soon coming,

      The time where flowers blossom,

      A time of beauty

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Sheila, so glad I found this hub. I have been enamored with Haiku since high school. I have always used the rigid 5-7-5 formula which makes me a little crazy. Many of the things you shared here are new to me. I have been assembling a hub with many of my Haiku verses with photos, but have not finished yet. Some of the poems just don't feel right. So You have been very helpful. Thanks. Good job.

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you, Alan, for your feedback and helpful links. I appreciate your examples. I hope others learn from you as well. The haiku form is difficult and beautiful, yet easily can become formulaic and cliche.

    • haikutec profile image

      Alan Summers 

      8 years ago from Chippenham

      For a highly praised simple overview of haiku by published Japanese and American writers of haiku check out:

      Also for my judge's comments on winning haiku by some of the top writers of haiku:

      The latest With Words haiku competition had this winning haiku:

      the coot's lobes

      just melting the ice

      snow in the wind


      John Barlow

      Ormskirk, England


      BTW, Note that a robin in the States is a Spring seasonal reference for haiku, whereas in England it is a Christmas reference.

      all my mistakes

      everytime the pen clicks

      the robin moves


      Alan Summers


      Strangely enough this haiku turned out to be 575, so it's a good example of what to look for if you insist on that pattern.

      another hot day

      a leaking water pipe stopped

      by the jackdaw’s beak

      Alan Summers

      Honourable Mention, 14th Mainichi Haiku Contest, Japan (2010)

      The moment in time is to be treated carefully as it is close becoming a cliche. This method is unheard of in Japan.

      Although haiku do not have rules as such, the guidelines are very useful. It's like playing music, you need to know the notes, the musical scales, and how to play an instrument, they are basic guidelines, and most musicians do follow them. ;-)

      Alan, With Words

      Japan Times award-winning writer for haiku

    • rgasperson profile image


      8 years ago from Charlotte

      I like this hub. It tells of the traditional haiku... Personally I don't like rules when it comes to poetry or any kind of art. I let my haiku come out the way it wishes. The one thing I do think I will be using more when I write my haiku is the "Moment in time" concept. I never thought of it that way. I think most haiku come out as one moment, but it is a good thing to be conscious about it.

    • sherrylou57 profile image


      8 years ago from Riverside

      Thank you for sharing this great topic, Haiku is the icing on the cake. congratulations on your first year!

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      9 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Thanks for sharing this.. I had absolutely no idea what Haiku rules were and after having written several haiku hubs here; I thought I should see if I knew what I was doing! From your listed rules and from what my readers say, apparently I do.. Yeehaa.

    • nadp profile image


      9 years ago from WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

      Great topic - I think I may try writing some haiku. I never thought about it before reading this hub, but I often do think about expressing a moment in writing - and it should be eloquent writing - like painting a picture with words. I love finding the perfect words. Now that I'm talking about it, I can't wait to try! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • bodhitree profile image


      9 years ago from here

      Hi, I had this idea, a moment; i suppose you could call it a haiku moment......

      Sit, watch from a train;

      Turquoise, ruby lightening breaks

      The morning frost, kingfisher!

      I'm afraid it may break too many rules to be

      a Haiku,but as an expression of the eternal moment

      through a finite has a go

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you. Keep working at it and feel free to post other haiku any time.

    • kraiterstorm profile image


      9 years ago

      I didn't know that...

      You're really good...

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Very good start, Kraiter, but haiku cannot have anthropomorphism, so autumn can't breathe or sigh. It's tough, right? We use many of the poetic devices such as anthropomorphism in other types of poetry. I think that's what makes haiku so difficult for many people who write poetry.

      You may want to try something like-

      Brisk autumn wind tosses

      reds, yellows, oranges, browns

      leaves to frosty ground

    • kraiterstorm profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow thanks for the info, here's one I wrote...

      Autumn, she breathes, sighs

      Reds, yellows, oranges, browns

      Leaves falling to the ground

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Of course, if you want something more obviously about integrity, you could opt for a senryu instead of haiku.


      Guiltless reflection

      built by morals and

      honesty behind closed doors

      Wow! I'm on a roll tonight. No wonder I was nominated as Literotica's Most Influential Poet of 2009. LOL

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Well, KatieRae, there would not be a haiku on integrity per se, since haiku are only about nature. However, one may write haiku of a nature scene that symbolizes integrity to the poet, but by haiku rules against expressing meaning of the scene, it would be up to the readers to interpret the haiku as they see fit. I'm trying to think about how integrity could be expressed in haiku. That's a tough one, especially since haiku are restricted to describing a single moment in time. Perhaps-

      Winds whistle through evergreens

      as the snow fades

      into the mountain

      See, to me, that could reflect the integrity of the mountain, but readers are free to their own interpretations.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Haikus are gorgeous, i need one on Integrity.. any sugestions?

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you, Shelly. I enjoyed your HubPage on writing haiku.

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 

      9 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Good description, Sheila.

      And that's a nice haiku!

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you, PWalker. Here's a haiku that I wrote last February:

      Red-breasted robin

      perches on gray stone

      above Easter-lilied grave

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Would love to read an example of a haiku poem that follows the rules you describe in this excellent hub!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i am book marking this i want to do some i have read a few and they are beautiful thanks for this


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