How to Write a Haiku

What is a haiku?

Haiku is short form poetry that originated in Japan. Haiku written in English follows some aspects of the traditional elements of the Japanese haiku. For example, Japanese haiku is printed on a single line, whereas English haiku appears on three lines.

The English haiku follows a 17-syllable form, 5 syllables on the first line, seven syllables on the second line and 5 syllables on the third line.

Traditional haiku is about nature

Traditionally, Japanese poets wrote haiku about nature. A popular theme was about the changes of the seasons. Often a haiku would focus on a single moment in time. Many haiku would also compare two images in that single moment in time.

For example, this winter haiku written by Natsume Sōseki:

Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

Haiku poetry

Modern haiku explore new formats and subjects

Today, authors explore new formats and topics in writing haiku. They are poems that still sound and feel like haiku, but they don’t exactly fit the traditional format and subject matter of the traditional Japanese haiku. Poets like Jack Kerouac use a freer rhythm in haiku.

This is one of Kerouac’s famous haikus:

The sound of silence

is all the instruction

You’ll get

Haiku poetry

The rules to follow in writing a traditional haiku

Rule 1: A haiku has a defined structure. The English haiku looks like this:

Line one: five syllables

Line two: seven syllables

Line three: five syllables

Rule 2: unlike more traditional poetry, haiku does not rhyme at all. So, the lines should not rhyme.

Rule 3: the punctuation and capitalization is up to the poet. You don’t need to follow the strict grammar rules for writing full sentences.

Rule 4: a haiku can include the repetition of words or sounds, as long as they don’t rhyme.

Rule 5: strictly the haiku should explore nature, but if you want to put a modern spin on it, explore other topics.

This modern haiku made us laugh:

Foul ball

Flies up through the air...

Fan catches it with his face.