Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

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Feb 7, 2011

THE READER: Haiku – The essence of a poetic moment

Understanding Haiku - A Beginner's Guide Part II
Haiku – The essence of a poetic moment

Look at that warbler –
He’s wiping his muddy feet
All over plum blossom
- Issa 1762 – 1826

Now close your eyes and look at that warbler…

The above poem by Kobayashi Issa expresses an almost brutal comic contrast and describes a poetic moment so vividly that one could almost see it through Issa’s eyes even after centuries have passed.

In this feature, I would like take you on to a journey of exploring the world of Haiku and hope that it excites you enough to read, write and explore more of this form.

The Journey
My journey started with the two Haiku below in 80’s… the first one is, one of the most celebrated Haiku.
Old Pond
A frog jumps in.
The sound of water
- Basho (1644-94)

Suicide's Note
The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.
- Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

These two Haiku are still etched in my mind. It touched me so deeply that I started exploring more and more… from then onwards; it was a journey to know Haiku and in turn, to know my innerself. Haiku is something that distills my thoughts, puts that thought in visual perspective and leave it in my mind to contemplate later – consciously or sub-consciously.

The path
The natural beauty forms much of the early Japanese poetry influenced by Shinto religion with its focus on spirituality as the essence of nature. Probably, below is the first of the poem by Prince Shiki, that lead to Haiku in present form.

Bracken sprouts
Above the stream that
Rushes over rocks.
Spring is here!
- Prince Shiki (668 – 716 CE)

There after, on to a tradition of personal expressions like this one below from a famously beautiful and proud 9th century woman poet Ono no Komachi

No one minded that
The flowers’ beauty faded.
And I saw myself in the world grow old
As the rain went on falling.
- Komachi

Its interesting to note how some of the images that are portrayed thousands of years ago, can almost be the same as some of the later poets portrayed

I come home to our room
On the far side of our bed
Lies her wooden head-rest.
- Hitomaro (8th Centuary)

It pierces my heel
As I walk in the bedroom:
My late wife’s comb.
- Buson (1716 – 83)

The classical poems were known as Waka meaning ‘Japanese poem or song’ in the 9th century which were mainly of two types – a long form called Choka and a short form known as Tanka. This short form became Japan’s most popular and aristocratic form. Governing syllable length and subject matter, classical poetic conventions dictated the language of Tanka. Slowly the poets began to introduce common language like ordinary speech, Chinese, street talk, slang, Buddhist terminology and even obscenity into collectively written verses known as Renga. In this form, the separate stanzas in Renga were 31 syllable Tanka, the first and second parts of which comprised 17 and 14 syllable. A typical Renga session might last for hours with small group of men (usually men) gathered around an experienced poet and collectively write poems, some times hundred verses long. These separate verses were linked by a subject, emotions or imagery. Here is one such example of the start of Renga session, jointly composed by Basho and his disciples.

Even the hawk’s feathers
Have been smothered by a passing shower
Of early winter rain
- Kyorai
Ruffled by a gust of wind
Dead leaves come to rest again.
- Basho
… and so on

The opening 17 syllable stanza was known as Hokku which, later19th Century poet, Shiki gave the name as Haiku (which denotes a free standing autonomous Hokku poem).

The path I travelled…
Basho - acknowledged as the supreme master of Haiku, said to his Zen Teacher “Haiku are description of what is happening at a particular ‘haiku moment’. Creating vivid images, each haiku paints a unique and dramatic scene that expresses emotions and some times, a philosophical thought to be contemplated upon, from the natural or social world. Basho also emphasized sincerity and seriousness – the poetic truth of words, pointing to higher reality.

I am not a Haiku expert or even claim to be a Haiku writer but I firmly believe that everything that comes from the heart in a flash of insight is Haiku. Holding on to that seed and then putting words around it in order to paint a picture; to make it a complete thought that makes readers to reflect upon it, is what I feel is ‘writing’ Haiku.

I hope this feature has given you an urge to explore more. Hold on to your thoughts and insight that gets manifested in your heart by nature, or moment in the present, or an emotional experience and then write few words around it and see if you can paint a picture with words.

I signoff with my words around the seed “From consciousness to supreme consciousness”
Image Curtsey:
Under my feet
Road disappeared
Am I the destination? 
- Shashi

Text and Image Sources: Tom Lowenstein’s Classic Haiku and Wikipedia

a) The views in the article are mine, where ever not mentioned otherwise. I have tried to give, as far as possible, all the sources of the text and images that I have used in the article, if I have missed out someone or something, let me know. I will amend the same.
b) I don’t claim to be an expert in Haiku (actually I don’t limit myself to the rules of classical Haiku hence I mostly call my writing in this genre as Haiku-T). This article intends to give a general idea about Haiku for the beginners as well as sharing of my thoughts about it. Those who are serious students of Haiku should either check with Haiku Society of America or the local universities.
 नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya
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  1. Oh this was wonderful
    I too love the mystery of haiku
    that second of image captured in brief words
    that relationship that suddenly exists between things
    your last Haiku gave a thrill to my mind
    But tell you know...does haiku have people in it? I have posted a few myself lately
    love the form...
    you are a wonderful poet

  2. Yes They have...Haiku do talk and carry people within... Here is Basho himself in one of his Haiku
    Laid waste on this journey
    My dreams wander scattered
    Through desolate fields

  3. I love to read Haiku but have always been hesitant to try it. You have inspired me! Enjoyed yours posted here, and thank you for visiting me as well :)

  4. I found this so interesting and I loved your Haiku -

    Under my feet
    Road disappeared
    Am I the destination?
    - Shashi


  5. Great share, thanks for helping demystify the Haiku. Hughes, Suicide's Note has long been a favorite of mine for the honest simplicity of it.

  6. illuminating post- thank you as I am trying to write haikus- not as easy as it looks!

  7. ..everything that comes from the heart in a flash of insight is Haiku. I LOVE that description.

  8. I love the haiku form, although I only recently began writing haikus when participating in "haiku my heart" on Fridays over at the blog Recuerda mi Corazon. You might like to participate there yourself! Thanks for your very informative post.

    And thanks so much for your kind comment on my blog!

  9. You describe yourself as "not an expert", but your knowledge of the form and the haiku you create bely your words. It is a beautiful form and I like to dabble in it myself, but it is challenging to create a picture, a moment, some fleeting thought in so few words. Thank you so much for the deeper insight today Shashi.

  10. What a great post! So many lovely haikus. I enjoy them so much, but have trouble using such few words. Every once in a while though, I do ponder writing one.

  11. Loved reading it. quite an insight in Haiku. I am not very much at ease in writing haiku. your post will make me try more. thank you.

  12. thank you Shashi. loved the examples you chose and the photo's but yours makes me ponder the path more.

    Under my feet
    Road disappeared
    Am I the destination?

    I think I will try more Haiku
    you are an inspiration!

    thank you

    and thank you for your visit and comment

  13. What a wonderful presentation you have made on tanka, haiku and rengu here, Shashi!

    I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed this.

    Perhaps later we can collectively take up a round of renga?

    That would be so much fun!

    My very best,

    Lady Nyo

  14. I almost put up your wonderful words of haiku on the review and now I know why I didnt for it is beautifully placed here. I will link over so people can enjoy my friend.

    Thank you for your kindness and your poise

  15. Thanks for this post!!..Yes I think the best way I see it, after reading your very fine points is ~ to use spontaneity (when it's present)..Use the least words to describe a whole story..colour, contrast, unexpected words may give it flavour...Still difficult to be really good...I try..:-)
    Love & Light

  16. This is such a wonderful share. I am just learning the beauty of haiku and will post my humble offerings.

    Thank you and please invite us again.

  17. beautiful haiku !
    last line is the best part ...I loved it :)

    Thank you for shaing! :)

  18. I read somewhere that Haiku is the smallest literary form and has the most number of rules.
    Thanks for the post.

  19. Its a long way to go for me as well. I just started. I liked the Basho's Haiku. I had read it :)!
    And, your definition is good and certainly deserves a new name :)

  20. I just read this and found it to be very informative. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us ! peace!Lola


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