Friday, April 30, 2010


The explanation and discussion of the Haiku can be complicated or simple. I will try to make it simple. A Japanese form that has taken root in English, it consists of 17 syllables divided into three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five. The allure of the Haiku is its brevity. In only a few syllables, it delivers deep and surprising meaning.

The Japanese use various forms for their Haiku, and some English poets, though they have not stuck to the 5/7/5 format, have found success with the three line form. The first line may be a reference to nature—a season, a flower, a bird, an insect. The second may have a contrast to the image chosen in the first line. By comparing the first and second lines, the third line may draw an insight or deliver a startling, unexpected image. One does not have to know the Japanese formats in order to be successful in writing the haiku, but it helps. Here are three written by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) translated into English.

The sea at springtime
All day it rises and falls
Yes, rises and falls

Temple bells die out
The fragrant blossom remain
A perfect evening

An ancient pond
A frog jumps in
The splash of water

Don’t be surprised if you find the above poems translated in many different ways. The pond poem has hundreds of translations. It’s usually titled “The Old Pond.”

This has been a very brief and incomplete discussion of the Haiku. Much more information can be found online, where you can study its history and get tips on how to write Haiku. You can also learn what English poets have done with this form.

I do not include any of my own in this essay, but I would certainly like to read some of yours. If you wish to leave one in the comments, I will be happy to respond.

L. Luis Lopez, Ph.D. , has published three books of poetry, including two award winners: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, A Painting of Sand, and Each Month I Sing. Presently, he is in transitional retirement at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he has taught English, Mythology, Latin, Ancient Greek, Greek and Roman literature classes, and was Director of the Academic Honors Program. You may email him at


  1. Pink phlox in full bloom
    Falling over granite ledge
    Winter wafts away

  2. Winter comes back home
    Chill coats baby greens
    Sun embraces ice

    It truly is 25 degrees at my house this morning. Brrr. Same expected for May Day!


  3. Bright mallard abides
    She waddles, unadorned, yet
    his forever mate.

  4. Golden years pass by
    Their worth unknown 'til too late
    The mistake of life.

  5. A librarian
    Most days are very crazy
    I love what I do

    I may have posted this twice... I am new to this.

  6. Alone I sat
    waiting as the moon
    became the sun.

    ~AF (Steel Magnolia)

  7. Don't think I've studied the Haiku since college. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. The sea is calm now
    Armaments fallen silent
    May peace reign at last

    (with apologies to Mr Arnold)

    Elsa Neal
    Blood-Red Pencil

  9. Responses to the Haikus from Dr. Lopez:

    Liza: This is a very nice haiku. You follow the 5/7/5, and you use nice alliteration in phlox, full, and falling (f sound) and winter wafts away (w sounds). This gives the haiku a musical quality. The image is clear and the last line sort of surprises the reader. Very good. Keep writing.

    Dani: Good. You use a 5/5/5. The image is nice, and I like the last line, “Sun embraces ice.” This line makes the reader think because you have opposites, yet I don’t think you necessarily mean the ice melts. You just want the reader to “see.”

    Kathryn: Very, very nice. You capture a factual image in nature in a 5/7/5. The reader wonders what it is that attracts the male. I think the word “Bright” might make the reader think you are referring to the male in line one when I believe you mean it to apply to the female. Perhaps another word? Maybe I am being too fussy. Good work.

    Alex: I like this haiku. The second line surprises me. I don’t expect that thought about the passing years, but, wow!—it works. The haiku teaches a good lesson. Keep writing.

    Linda: Nice. The third line could use a transition word for the second line. How about this: Most days very crazy, yet/ I love what I do. You keep the 7 syllables in the second line by dropping are and adding yet. You may use the comma before yet or take poetic license and drop it. I would probably drop it. What do you think?

    Steelxmagnolia: Good image. You have a 5/5/4. The image is problematic in that the moon “becomes” the sun instead of giving way to the sun—but you could use this mystic image of becoming if the narrator of the poem falls asleep or dreams. I may not be making myself clear, but I would like a mystic quality.

    Helen: I hope you go back to the schoolday studies and create some haikus. Do you have any from those days?

    Hearwritenow: You have a nice 5/7. A slight problem rises in the use of “armaments” in the second line, for I am not sure if this word refers to crashing, violent waves or to an actual battle that has taken place on the sea. The image is confusing, so it just has to be made clear.

    To all the poets: All of these nice haikus surprised me. Thanks for supplying them

  10. regarding the comment on my haiku: Yes, I agree. I especially like the suggestion of the word "yet". Thank you!!

    A librarian
    Most days very crazy yet
    I love what I do

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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