Book Writing

How to Write a Haiku Poem

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One of the most essential parts of being a writer is keeping the creative juices flowing. Sometimes stepping outside the box of our normal compositions is exactly what we need to make writing fun and give ourselves a mental break. Writing Japanese poetry is an excellent way to stretch your creativity. Let’s explore how to write a haiku poem.

What is a Haiku?

The best way to understand them is to explore the haiku definition and examples. Traditional haikus are an expressive form that seeks to capture the essence of a moment or experience. It is like looking through a tiny window into a much larger concept or experience. Many focus on the structure of the haiku, but this is only the tip of an art form that goes much deeper.

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Understanding the 5-7-5 structure is essential to the construction of haiku poetry, so what is a 5-7-5 syllable pattern? The haiku contains three lines and is unrhymed. The first line contains 5 syllables, the second contains 7, and the third line ends with 5 syllables. The best way to understand the syllable structure is to read a haiku aloud and count the syllables with your fingers.

Scholars argue about a few nuances that result from differences between the Japanese and English languages. An English haiku contains a total of 17 syllables, and some argue that 12 syllables would be closer to the true Japanese form. Also, Japanese poets write the entire haiku straight across in one line, but English writers use three lines. For this exercise, the 17 syllables, three-line version is used. Let’s see how to write a haiku.

5 Steps to Writing a Haiku

The only formal haiku rules you need to be concerned about are the number of syllables in each line. Here are the steps of how to write a haiku poem.

1. Choose a theme

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The first step in writing a haiku is choosing a theme. The most common theme in traditional haiku is nature. Seasonal changes are a popular topic, but you can write on anything that you wish to describe in your own world.

2. Choose a kigo

A kigo is a single word that gives you a clue to the season or time of day. Traditional haiku includes cherry blossoms for spring, wisteria for summer, the moon for fall, and cold for winter. The beauty of haiku is that you can choose something from your immediate environment to give it a unique personality. For instance, you might use daffodils, sunshine, leaves falling, or snow.

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3. Include a kireji

A kireji is known as the “cutting word.” This word creates a pause or break in the rhythm. It often separates two images. This feature is not always found in English haiku, but it is a common feature of the traditional Japanese form. Using a kireji gives the poem impact and is a fun way to challenge yourself.

4. Create a surprise ending

Another characteristic of the haiku is its surprise ending. The first two lines flow into a theme. The third line can change the subject of the poem completely to create a twist in the theme. It can be a surprise action by the subject, or it can be about something completely different.

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5. Look for future inspiration

A fun thing to do is to carry a journal around with you so you can try to create a haiku anywhere you go. You can find inspiration anywhere, even in the smallest things. Writing haiku can help you develop a greater appreciation for the world around you as you look closely for the subject of your next poem. This is an excellent way to keep your creativity growing and to take time to pay attention to the small details in your world.

Haiku Examples

One of the best ways to understand haiku form is the look at some famous examples. Here are a few of our favorites. See if you can pick out the season or time signal, kigo, and kireji in each one.

English examples

These examples have been translated from the masters in a way that keeps the proper 5-7-5 structure.

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1. An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
– Basho (1644-1694)

2. Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.
Richard Wright (1908-1960)

3. First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.
– Murakami Kijo

4. Toward those short trees
We saw a hawk descending
On a day in spring.
– Masaoka Shiki

Traditional Japanese examples

The next set of haiku have the correct form in Japanese, but they lose the syllable structure when translated into English. They are beautiful and capture the essence of the poetic form.

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1. Oh, tranquility!
Penetrating the very rock,
A cicada’s voice.
-Translated by Helen Craig Mccullough

2. A world of dew,
And within every dewdrop
A world of struggle.
– “A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa

3. I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms.
-“A Poppy Blooms” by Katsushika Hokusai

4. In the moonlight,
The color and scent of the wisteria
Seems far away.
-Yosa Buson

These haikus give you an idea of the essence and feeling that the Japanese form tries to capture and how it translates into English. You can find thousands of examples online to serve as inspiration for your own haiku adventures. Of course, you could keep them to yourself, but that would hardly do them justice. Be sure to share the haikus you write with others because that is half the fun.

Now, you know how to write a haiku poem and have a few examples to get you started. If you had fun with this exercise, you might want to explore how to write a diamante, sestina, or Shakespearean sonnet. The next thing you need to do is to get out your journal and look around for something that inspires you. And the most important thing to remember about writing haikus? Simple: have fun!

Chris Craft

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Founder of InspireFirst and Nao Media.