Haiku Poetry

The Haiku

The haiku is a form of poetry that derives from a 16th century form of Japanese poetry. It is considered a minimalist form of poetry mainly due to its brevity. The structure consists of a 17 syllable verse structured in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.

The lines in the poem are not rhymed. The purpose of the haiku is to serve as an expression of an epiphany or insight. The poem is designed to take an ordinary moment in time and render it extraordinary.

The haiku derives from a type of Japanese court poetry called a tanka. The tanka was popular during the 9th-12th centuries and was written to explore religious and courtly themes. The structure of the tanka consisted of five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. The first part of the poem was called the hokku or starting verse . The hokku set the tone for the rest of the poem. The father of the tanka is considered to be a 16th century Japanese monk named Basho. However, it was in 1892 that Masasoka Shiki shortened the tanka up to the hokku which is where the modern haiku primarily evolved from.

There are many different opinions as to what elements comprise a haiku. Traditionally, the haiku was to have a seasonal reference called a kigo. However, most modern day haikus do not contain it. Most poetry experts agree there are two critical components to the poem. One is the turn or shift which usually occurs between the second and third lines. The turn is a shift in perspective that juxtaposes the other images in the poem. Essentially, the poem must have a juxtaposition in which two elements or lines in the poem indirectly relate to the third line.

The second critical component is an epiphany or insight. The content or subject of the poem is something a person sees in everyday life that has suddenly taken on a more important meaning. The poem is supposed to capture a moment in time. Due to its emphasis on being in the moment the haiku is frequently associated with Zen Buddhism. Both place a high value on the present moment and human interactions with nature. However, haiku poetry does not aim to serve a religious or philosophical purpose. Instead, it is spiritual in nature and strives to see beauty and meaning in the ordinary.

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