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How to Write a Western Haiku

Updated on December 31, 2012

Traditional vs. Western

Syllables count but structure is different. Use 17 syllables in a Haiku, but follow these rule to break down syllables by phrase.

Traditional Haiku - Use 5, 7, and 5 syllables in the first, second, and third phrase, respectively.

Western Haiku - Use the number of syllables desired in each of the three phrases as long as the total syllable count remains at 17.

What is a Haiku?

A Haiku is basically a short poem, but it comes with a specific set of rules. The traditional Japanese haiku followed a pattern of having 17 syllables organized into three phrases. In the West, such as the United States, this often appears are three separate lines. The number of syllables in each line is also important. The first line must contain 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third 5 for a total of 17.

For example, a haiku that is following this 5-7-5 syllable format might read as follows:

sixteen gruelling games
hearts and body parts broken
playoffs are now here

Notice that in this haiku, the syllable count in the first phrase, or line, is 5, followed by 7 and 5 for the last two phrases. This is a traditional haiku structure.

What is a Western Haiku?

The main difference between a traditional haiku and a western haiku is that the strict structure of 5-7-5 does not have to be adhered to. Of course, this rule change has its backers and detractors. In a western haiku, the rule of 17 syllables holds true, but they may be distributed more freely by the author as needed in each phrase. This makes it easier to fit in certain words.

Here is an example of a western haiku:

sun dropping fast
sky bursts into colorful hues
bugs begin to bite

In this case you can see that 17 syllables are still used, however the distribution is different. Here we have a 4-8-5 syllable structure. It is still a haiku, but a western haiku that breaks from the traditional phrase syllable count.

What Makes a Proper Haiku?

Whether an author chooses a traditional haiku or a western haiku, the structure is technically correct. Traditionalists will argue for the strict 5-7-5 struture, where others will declare that restrictive form is not necessary.

There is even another school of thought that the exact number of syllables in a haiku is not important. Of course, this opens up even more possibilities that threaten to turn an attempt an a haiku into something completely different.

The fact is that any form will work, but sticking to a traditional or western haiku will make it easier for readers to understand that they are seeing a haiku.

If you want to start writing a haiku, just consider the syllables used and you'll figure out if you want a traditional or western haiku format.
If you want to start writing a haiku, just consider the syllables used and you'll figure out if you want a traditional or western haiku format. | Source

A Haiku About This Haiku

Here are examples of haikus written about this haiku. See if you can tell which one is traditional and which one is western.

haiku shows the way
stick with tradition today
no way to new ways

can't break free
restrictions are killing me
get these writing chains off me

If you guessed that the first haiku in this section was the traditional one, you would be correct. In the second haiku, the structure breaks from the traditional form and uses more syllables in the last line to make the point.

Simple Way to Write Poetry

Writing poetry can be pretty challenging, but if you take the time it can also be very rewarding. If you struggle with making it work, try a much shorter haiku. You may just find that writer's block is wiped away and your poetic inner self comes to the surface quickly.


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    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 5 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Perhaps the most effective line in haiku that I have ever read was this: Watching falling snow

      I've always remembered it although the author is obscure to me, the line has always stuck. I think if any more structure is taken away from the western haiku, it just becomes poetry. Oh and, that's one neat pen! Nice job Lando. Voted you up/useful. Peace. Kawi.

    • Gladys Familaran profile image

      Gladys Familaran 5 years ago

      Interesting. I never knew of a Western Haiku. Now that I know the rules, I'm going to write one! Thanks for posting this. Voted up, interesting and of course I'm sharing this. :)

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 5 years ago from United States

      I love the detail you put into this! Haiku is probably the sort of poetry I enjoyed writing the most. Voted up!