Do you know what a syllable is? Do you know how many syllables are there in invisible or condign or merry or smile (use the last link on this post to answer this question)? Poetry has depended greatly on syllables to define what we loosely call the metre (in the context of ghazals it is called the beher and there are more behers than the total number of alphabets in my entire name). It comes as little surprise that a country which has measured everything from its walk to the chips it carefully manufactures to its quality processes, would create a system of poetry so heavily restricted by the count of syllables. Haiku has various shadows to its image. Some think of it as a mere joke or a funny quote. Some consider it profound and pithy. It is what we would call limericks when hesitantly erected against the showy and colourful backgrounds of Shakespearean sonnets and HWL's quatrains. When compared to the other forms of Japanese poetry, Haiku was considered a commoner's fare and at times, mere entertainment and vulgar. So be it!!
I shall spare you the history of Haiku (you could search it on the net, although I would suggest speaking to a Japanese poet to get something authentic). I think we should share these common facts before we proceed. Haiku is a short verse composed of 17 syllables (onji). The popular version of the rules instructs poets to adhere to the 5-7-5 rule (viz. the count of syllables on each line, totaling 17). Reference to a season (kigo) is usually expected in a Haiku, although there are many exceptions to that rule. There are many rules and I would refer you to this page, in case you are interested.
I usually employ Haiku to convey an observation or to relate to my philosophical thought process.
So let us consider a few Haiku (I have picked some of the best of other poets and a few random ones of mine):
When the rain stopped
Over mongrel's gay pawprints
Coffin bearers strode
It's not that the heart
grows cold. No, it burns to ash,
and the ash grows cold.
A kite floats
At the place in the sky
Where it floated yesterday.
How the cartwheel turns
Now that spoke presses, now this-
Road from Banbury
a man spilled from his crushed car
dead eyes full of rain
I let him touch
a little bit of me
spring snow . . .
the horse's ear
When the fire is raised
Drums struck loud and notes ascend
Beats of the sheep's soul
I caught a petal fallen from cherry tree in my hand.
Opening the fist
I find nothing there.
to the same withered flower
a bee returns
Little brat cries loud
While his mother spanks him hard
A tear in her eye
Cold winter cobbled paths
No sign of dear friends and kin
Thus I find someone
the bee emerges from deep
within the peony
The cleanest lettuce
She will soon sell them to you
Her hands soil laden
A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle
Heavy eyes close shut
Behold a false world so real
Why do I wake up?
Seas slowly darken
and the wild duck's plaintive cry
grows faintly white
and the birds cry out- tears
in the eyes of fishes
On the road burnt by
White heat of an angry sun
Memories of snow
She teases and taunts
But he smiles as he clenches
A long lost nose ring
Touch of her firm breasts
Thousand day vow and then this?
She wears his habit.
Some Haiku were written for friends. I have avoided quoting them here.
This is what Basho had to say of himself:
In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred
bones and nine orifices there is something, and this
something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a
better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is
torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind.
This something in me took to writing poetry years ago,
merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its
lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that
there were times when it sank into such dejection
that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again
times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted
in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began to
write poetry, it has never found peace with itself,
always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At
one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service
of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth
of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented
from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is,
it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore,
it hangs on to it more or less blindly.
The second Haiku: Joel Welling
The third Haiku: Buson Yosa
The fifth Haiku: Jane K. Lambert
The sixth Haiku: Fay Aoyagi
The seventh Haiku: Scott Metz
The ninth Haiku: Kyoshi Takahama
The tenth Haiku: Charles Easter
The thirteenth Haiku: Basho
The fifteenth Haiku: Issa
The seventeenth Haiku: Basho
The eighteenth Haiku: Basho
Two of my favourites:
Number 2 and 8
ps: In case some Haiku is not clear or you wish to discuss any, feel free to put it in your comments...