Thursday, April 08, 2004


Haiku poems are deceptively simple. It is a 17-syllable verse consisting of three lines with the first having 5 syllables, the second 7 and the third 5. It is a form of poetry that began in Japan. I remember learning about Haiku in third grade and everyone having to write poems to put up on the wall. We never read "real" haiku and it's because of this experience I never considered Haiku to be "real" poetry. That is until a tiny book called Haiku Harvest published in 1962 came into my life. That's when I discovered Basho. Basho is considered to be one of the best Japanese haiku poets. He could be melodic and meditative or mischievous and funny. In my translation, the poems aren't always translated to match the syllables, but they are marvelous little poems nonetheless. Here are a few:

Wandering, dreaming, in fever Dreaming that dreams Forever wander - - - Without my hat! Bah! Why does this rain Have to plop on my pate! Oh Well! - - - The Best I have to offer you Is the small size Of the Mosquitoes.
There are also women haiku poets. I have a little book called Women Poets of Japan edited and translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi and published in 1977. Here are a few:
Cats making love in the temple But people would blame A man and wife for mating in such a place. --by Kawai Chigetsu-Ni (1632-1736) - - - On the road through the clouds Is there a short cut To the summer moon? --by Den Sute-Jo (1633-1698) - - - The fireflies' light. How easily it goes on How easily it goes out again. --Chine-Jo (Late 17th Century)
I am always amazed at how so much can be said with so few words. I think we do a disservice to haiku by teaching it to grade school children and not giving them any context for it. Instead of being an art, it turns into an exercise in syllables. If you are interested in reading more haiku you could do worse than start with Classic Haiku: An Anthology of Poems by Basho and His Followers published in 2002 and translated by Asataro Miyamori. Before you go on your way, be sure to read From Psalms to Seuss - What Poetry Can Do For You (via Bookninja). I found it inspiring, I hope you do too.