How to Write a Haiku

A haiku (hi-koo) is a Japanese form of poetry consisting of three lines, written to be read in one breath. In Japan, hundreds of years ago, poets got together for poetry parties (sounds like my kind of fun!). Each poet wrote a short verse that, when combined, became one long poem called a renga. The starting verse was called a Hokku. By the early 1900s, the Japanese recognized these starting verses as independent poems, and the haiku was born.

The American (or modern) Haiku is based on the old Japanese form but usually has three lines with a 5/7/5/ syllable count. Meaning lines one and three have five syllables and line two has seven syllables.

Here are the rules:

  1. The first and third lines contain five syllables.
  2. The middle line contains seven syllables for a total of seventeen syllables.
  3. Most Haiku is written in incomplete sentences.
  4. Usually speaks of a moment in nature.
  5. The Haiku is untitled and unrhymed.
  6. It does not include simile or metaphor. 
  7. The poem ends with a shift of perspective or enlightenment of some kind.

Not sure how to count syllables?

Clap out each syllable as you say the word. 
The word "blue" has one syllable (one clap): blue.
The word "thunder" has two syllables (two claps): thun-der. 
The word "poetry" has three syllables (three claps): po-et-ry.

Example #1   

In the twilight rain  (5) 
these brilliant-hued hibiscus - (7) 
A lovely sunset (5)
- Matsuo Bashō

While reading original Japanese Haiku you may notice that some poems do not translate into our American 5-7-5 syllable format such as  Kato Shuson poem below. 

Example #2

I kill an ant and realize 
my three children 
have been watching.
- Kato Shuson

Both poems are about nature but both very different in subject and tone. 


Here is one of my American (or modern) haiku using the strict 5/7/5 syllable count.

example #4

sometimes, poets like to throw the strict syllable count out the window and concentrated instead on writing a brief poem about a moment in nature without any constraints. Here’s an example of this kind of poem:


Then you will definitely enjoy The Haiku Society of America.

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