The Elegance of Haiku

IMG_1045April is National Poetry Month. What a perfect chance it has been to learn more about poetry and maybe even become poets ourselves. Although it’s harder than it looks, a highly recognizable form of poetry is haiku. Originating in Japan, haiku is one of the oldest and most elegant forms of poetry.

Haikus were always a favorite of my literature students for an obvious reason – they’re short. Known for the rule of 5-7-5, a haiku consists of just three unrhymed lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. You may remember tapping your pencil on your desk to count syllables. For example, the word frog has one syllable. The word silent has two.

Nature often inspires poetry, but haiku, by definition, is about nature. It can be traced back to 9th century Japan where it evolved as poetry that specifically celebrated the elegance of the natural world. Matsuo Bashō wrote one of the most famous haikus in the 1600s.

The Old Pond

An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond
Splash! Silence again. 

I wonder if Bashō would be surprised we’re still reading his poems 4,000 years after he penned them. Inspired to write your own haiku in celebration of National Poetry Month? Pay attention to something you find intriguing in nature, and form your thoughts about it in a simple three-line poem that follows the 5-7-5 rule.

For extra credit, consider illustrating your poem, as haikus often are. My students loved it when I brought out the cardboard box of watercolors. Their creations always made the most beautiful bulletin boards!

Poetic inspiration recently struck me early one morning when I looked outside and saw a rare flash of bright blue fly past the window. My husband and I had nearly given up attracting bluebirds to our southern Illinois backyard. After jumping for joy, I wrote this haiku.

The Birdhouse

Vacant for so long
Today a pair of bluebirds
Found their home sweet home

§

“When composing a verse let there not be a hair’s breath separating your mind from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.”
– Matsuo Bashō

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