What is Haiku?

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The traditional type of Japanese haiku refers to a poem with three lines, which consists of a total of seventeen syllables. The lines are written in a 5/7/5 syllable count, and the theme of this type of poem is usually about nature. The Japanese haiku puts emphasis on intensity, simplicity and the straightforwardness of expression.

This type of poem originated from Japan during the 13th century and began as the opening phrase of renga. Renga simply refers to an oral poem, which is typically composed of 100 stanzas and was also written syllabically. During the 16th century, the shorter haiku separated from renga and a century later, this type of poem was mastered by Matsuo Basho.

Aside from Basho, some of the most prominent poets who write traditional haikus include Masaoka Shiki, Kobayashi Issa, and Yosa Buson. There are also contemporary poets, such as Anselm Hollo, Paul Muldoon, and Robert Hass, who are interested in haikus.

Traditionally, this kind of poem is composed in the present tense and centers on the association between different images. At the end of the first line or the second line, there was a pause and an orkigo (which means season word) indicates the time of the year.

As haiku evolves, the different rules were broken, including the 5/7/5 syllable count. Despite of this, the philosophy of haiku has remained. This philosophy involves focusing on a brief moment in time and making use of provocative imagery. Additionally, it somewhat involves a sudden sense of enlightenment and illumination.

The poet named Ezra Pound was influenced by this philosophy and perceived the power of the images conveyed by haiku. According to him, haiku’s images were a speech in itself and is even more than any formulated language. Haiku’s influence on this poet is most apparent in his poem entitled In a Station of the Metro. This poem started out with 30 lines and was cut down to two lines.

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