A Short Introduction to the Haiku

Interesting Literature

An overview of the haiku as a poetic form

Many of the things we think we know about the Japanese poetic form of the haiku are inaccurate, if not downright incorrect. The common perception, or understanding, of the haiku might be summarised as follows: ‘The haiku is a short Japanese poem containing 17 syllables, following a tradition, and a name, that remains unchanged after centuries.’ There are, however, several problems with such a definition of the haiku, which this short introduction aims to address and make clear.

Although the haiku as a verse form is centuries old, the word ‘haiku’ isn’t. Indeed, it was only surprisingly recently – as recently as the end of the nineteenth century, in fact – that people started referring to these miniature Japanese poems as haiku (never ‘haikus’: the plural is the same as the singular), when Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) began referring to them as

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