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How to Write a Haiku

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

In this lesson, you will learn how to write a haiku, a Japanese form of poetry, by learning about the structure and common themes of haiku poetry, by looking at some examples, and finally, by following several simple steps to write your own.

Introduction to Haiku

Imagine you are on a wonderful vacation (you pick the place). You are thinking about how much you wish someone back home could experience what you are and feel what you feel. Maybe it is the fresh air in the mountains. Maybe it is the clear water on a warm tropical beach. You are completely at peace.

How do you express that? Through a long letter detailing all of your activities and how you felt about each of them? Or, maybe, through a postcard with an image and just a few well-chosen words? Sometimes, less is more.

A haiku, which is an ancient Japanese form of poetry, is sort of the postcard version of poetry. They are extremely short, but when done well, they can powerfully convey a mood or illustrate a scene.

Haiku Structure

The structure of a haiku has several very specific requirements. First of all, a haiku generally has 3 lines and seventeen syllables, or segments of sound in words. The syllables are distributed so that five are in the first line, seven are in the second, and five are in the third. The number of words in each line does not matter as long as there are the correct number of syllables in each line.

Some people find it helpful to say the words out loud or even clap out the syllables of the words as they say them to make sure they have the syllable count right. Below is an example, first written out normally and then written with the syllables marked:

Quietly waiting

The snow begins its descent

Blanketing the ground.

Qui-et-ly wait-ing

The snow be-gins its de-scent

Blank-et-ing the ground.

Themes in Haiku

While many people primarily focus on the syllable count while writing haiku, it is also important to understand the common themes that this form of poetry is typically used to express. A haiku often illustrate small moments in nature and have a quiet, contemplative tone.

Traditional haiku often highlights contrasting elements or concepts, such as the softness of the snow and the hardness of the ground in the poem above. This contrast is often emphasized with punctuation, such as dashes, semi-colons, and ellipses.

There are also often words that will give you a clue as to what season inspired this poem. Matsuo Basho was a Japanese poet famous for his haiku poems that he wrote in the 17th century. Below is one of his most famous poems:

The old pond-

a frog jumps in,

the sound of water.

The punctuation of this poem contrasts the silence of the pond before the frog's jump with the splash at the end. The idea of a frog jumping into water calls to mind a warmer season.

Practice Writing a Haiku

The guidelines and examples above should give you an idea of what a haiku is and what it should look and sound like. Now, let's try writing our own by following these steps:

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