What is a haiku?

A haiku is a style of Japanese poetry that focuses on simple themes, but providing an interesting or unexpected perspective. Two different images are usually juxtaposed, allowing the reader to see a creative connection between the two. Like a good joke, the first part is for preparation, while the second part is for finishing.

A haiku Traditional consists of 17 blackberries (usually the mistake of saying they are syllables is made, but I will clear up the confusion later). The format is five blackberries in the first verse, seven blackberries in the second, and five in the third. In addition, the haiku they usually carry an allusion to the season of the year and refer to the natural world.

Although brief, a haiku it can convey a great message in just a few verses. It is partly because of the structure of the Japanese language, which consists of short words, but it is also guided by a philosophy of Japanese aesthetics that appreciates the simple and the minimalist (for more information, 10 principles of Japanese aesthetics)

Let’s look at the following example, which is a poem by Matsuo Bashō, one of the most famous Japanese poets.

古 池 や
蛙 飛 び こ む
水 の 音

The pronunciation of this poem is as follows:

furu ike ya
kaeru tabikomu
mizu no oto

However, in Japanese the sinalefa resource is not used, so the first verse, for example, would be fu-ru-i-ke-ya “, which gives five syllables. Here is the translation. The poem is perfectly translated into Spanish, as it even maintains the structure of 17 blackberries.

An old pond
A frog dives
Noise in the water

All the aforementioned characteristics are found in this poem: It consists of 17 blackberries (note that in the first verse the last syllable of “old” and the first of “pond” are joined. This in poetry is known as sinalefa); In addition, two scenarios are presented: the first is a pond, the second a frog that jumps into the water; finally, the third verse serves as a finale. The reference to nature is obvious in this poem.

Here’s another example:

A motionless crow
on the dry branch
Autumn afternoon

Now, returning to the topic of blackberries, this is what each of the basic pronunciations of Japanese is called. They are usually said to be syllables, but in reality the “n” sound (which is ん in Japanese) is a blackberry on its own that comes to have an individual pronunciation. For more information I recommend seeing this article on principles of the Japanese language.

Here are two more examples faithfully translated by the Mexican writer, Octavio Paz.

I.

Made of air
between pines and rocks
the poem sprouts

II.

Logs and straw;
through the cracks they enter
Buddhas and insects