About Poetry – The Haiku

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Alternative Title: hokku

The haiku first emerged in Japanese Literature in the 17th century. It was originally called the hokku and was a poetic form of 17 syllables and was written in three unrhymed lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

Originally, it was a terse response to more complicated Japanese poetic traditions.

However, it was not known by the name, haiku until the 19th century.

The term haiku comes from the first element of the word haikai ( a humourous form of renga or linked verse poem.)

The second element of the word, hokku. The hokku which sets the tone of the renga had to mention such subjects as, the season, the time of day and landscape features, all in 17 syllables!

The hokku, known interchangeably as the haikai became known as the haiku in the 19th century. By this time it was used independently from the renga and described a 17 syllable poem.

The haiku form was restricted in subject matter to a description of nature that mentioned a season of the year. It had to also evoke a definite, though unstated, emotional response.

The form gained distinction early in the Tokugawa Period 1603–1867) when the great master poet, Bashō elevated the hokku to a highly refined and conscious art. He began writing what was considered this “new style” of poetry in the 1670s, while he was in Edo (now Tokyo). Among his earliest haiku is

On a withered branch
A crow has alighted;
Nightfall in autumn.

Bashō subsequently traveled throughout Japan and his experiences became the subject of his verse. His haiku were accessible to a wide cross section of Japanese society, and these poems’ broad appeal helped to establish the form as the most popular form in Japanese poetry.

A poem written in the haiku form or a modification of it in a language other than Japanese is also called a haiku. In English the haiku composed by the Imagists were especially influential during the early 20th century. The form’s popularity beyond Japan expanded significantly after World War II, and today haiku are written in a wide range of languages.

Nowadays, the subject matter of the haiku is more flexible but the simplicity yet depth of the original is, in my opinion, still something to strive for.

©The Vixen of Verse, 2020.

The information above was recently revised and updated by J.E. Luebering, Executive Editorial Director. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Haiku – Poetry

Good poetry is

food for the soul, it inspires

the spirit with joy!

©The Vixen of Verse