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What is haiku?

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form defined by its brevity and use of vivid imagery.

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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A Haiku is a Japanese poetic form consisting of three unrhyming lines. In its most common English-language version, a haiku's three lines consist of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. Poems in this style generally focus on a single moment or topic and employ vivid imagery. Traditional haikus focus on nature, employ an impersonal point of view, and reference the time of day or season. Modern haikus can employ any point of view and address any topic. 

The haiku was called hokku in Japan until the 19th century and usually appeared as a tone-setting passage at the start of a renga, a poem of linked verses written by multiple poets. In the late 19th century, poet Masaoka Shiki adapted the hokku into a discrete poetic form called haiku, a name he created by combining hokku and haikai, the name for comedic renga poems. In the early 20th century, Western writers began experimenting with haiku, though it gained widespread popularity outside Japan in the 1950s. 

One of the most famous examples of a haiku is the following poem by Bashō, written in the 17th century and translated by R. H. Blyth:

The old pond;

A frog jumps in —

The sound of the water.

Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" is a notable example of haiku poetry's influence on Imagist poets, a movement of writers in the early 20th century who valued imagery over formal structure and discursiveness.

The apparition of these faces in a crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.

see: poetry

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