Why are the rules of Haiku not as strictly enforced when written in English?
When written in English, the rules of Haiku generally dictate "17 syllables or less" rather than three lines syllabized 5-7-5. Why is this so and what other rules are relaxed when Haiku is written in English?
I've never heard of the '17 syllables or less' rule for English Haiku. I was taught strictly to adhere to 5-7-5 and believe it best that way, anyway.
I haven't heard of that 17 or less, either. AFAIK, it's 5-7-5. Period.
Perhaps the reason the rule is (maybe) bent in English is that most English/Americans are sloppy writers, and 5-7-5 is "too hard" (sob, sniffle).
The 5-7-5 structure is not a "rule" for English haiku, and is not even the preference in serious haiku circles, as the syllable structure of the English language is completely different from Japanese. The 17 syllables of traditional Japanese haiku is equivalent of something more like 12 syllables in English.
I've had a lot of haiku published, and can say that the 5-7-5 structure is actually easier to achieve than is the real essence of haiku. Haiku is more about the moment, and a twist, and perhaps a seasonal reference, than it is about a specific syllable count.
The form originated with not only a different language, but an entirely different style of expressing that on the page. As a result translation of the form is more open to interpretation.
As we know, haiku originated from Japan. It's actually quite a new type of poetry as it came from the starting verse of renku (linked verses written by different poets).
Haiku was first officially coined by Shiki at the outbreak of the 20th Century and he included some Western techiques such as sketching direct from nature which he called Shasei in Japanese.
The starting verse of renga (and renku) is hokku, but as they became very collectible in their own right, they slowly evolved into poems independent of renga or renku.
Haiku (and hokku) in Japan is written in more than one Japanese language system, none of which contain alphabets or syllables.
Also, Japanese punctuation is written in characters, a bit similar to us saying "full stop" or "period" instead of "." or "comma" or "semi-colon"; "colon" or "dash" etc...
These punctuation "words" are part of the 17 sound unit structure of haiku and hokku, whereas in English we don't count punctuation as syllables because they are symbols. ;-)
I've observed that most Japanese women haiku writers, and Westerners etc... read out a haiku in six seconds, and a Japanese male haiku writer will often read them out in three seconds. Plus quite a lot of Japanese traffic signs are in 17 sound units (shorter than "at" which would be two sound units in their language) and I can assure you that they wouldn't call them haiku .;-)
Strangely enough, in the West, we call almost anything in 17 English-language syllables a "haiku". ;-)
For a simple overview of haiku, check out this webpage which has been praised by Japanese, British, and American haiku writers: http://www.withwords.org.uk/what.html
all my best,
Alan, With Words
This hub is written to answer the question: "When written in English, the rules of Haiku generally dictate '17 syllables or less' rather than three lines syllabized 5-7-5. Why is this so and what other rules are relaxed when Haiku is written in... read more
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