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Haiku is one of the most important forms of traditional Japanese poetry. It is a highly stylised and refined form of Japanese poetry which is intended as a brief but spontaneous insight and/or appreciation of the human condition or more usually the natural world.

Haiku is, today, a 17-syllable verse form consisting of three distinct lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively.

It can be seen almost as a snapshot of a a moment; a sensation, or an immediate impression drawn from a specific instant. However, it is said that more than requiring mere inspiration, it takes meditation, effort and genuine perception to be able to compose real Haiku poetry.

Haiku has its roots in the spiritualist philosophy and the Taoist symbolism of the oriental mystics and Zen-Buddhist masters who express much of their thoughts in form of myths and symbols. It is traditional to use the name of a flower, animal, custom or event that invokes he feeling of a particular season.

Although the form has undergone some changes since its creation, Matsuo Basho (1644 - 1694)  is seen as the father of modern haiku poetry and its greatest exponent.  Basho’s haikus are dramatic, and they exaggerate humour or depression, ecstasy or confusion. These dramatic expressions have a paradoxical nature. The humour and the despair which he expressed are not implements to believe in the possibility of the human being and to glorify it. If anything, the literature of Basho has a character that the more he described men’s deeds, the more human existence’s smallness stood out in relief, and it makes us conscious of the greatness of nature’s power.

An example of Basho’s poetry is below - clearly the 5-7-5 syllable format is lost in the translation -

Karite nemu
kakashi no sode ya
yowa no shimo

I would sleep,
borrowing the sleeve of the scarecrow.
Midnight frost

 

 

 
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