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Haiku Definition: Meaning, Origin, Format and Structures, Rules, Examples, Poems

a comprehensive article on haiku definition, as well as the haiku format and structures, rules and examples of haiku, origin of haiku.

Haiku meaning and history

Haiku Definition and Examples — Haiku is one of the prominent, traditional and interesting form of poetry that offers simplicity and allows writers or poets to paint a clear pictures using just few words. Haiku is basically a form of poetry that involves a practice of artistic discipline, brevity and coherence, making each words or syllable significant.

In this article, we will be sharing some notable information on the haiku meaning, the origin of haiku as a traditional form of poetry, the relationship between haiku poetry and other forms of literature, haiku examples, the essential rules of haiku poetry and some other relative controversy.

So, let's begin. What is the definition of haiku?

Haiku Definition

The definition of haiku, before proceeding further is quite imperative. Haiku definition gives us the necessary tips that can armour us with the tool to have at least, a limited understanding of what haiku is all about. Here are some definition by some reputable sources.

HAIKU MEANING: Haiku is simply a popular short form of poetry that is written with a particular styles of syllables. This syllabic styles determines whether or not a poem can be classified as haiku or just another distinct form of poetry. 

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, HAIKU is an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively also: a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference.

Also, Academy of American Poets also defined it as:

"A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression."

What Motif Is Used In The First Line Of The Haiku?

Motif is simply a recurring narrative element that has symbolic significance. This, if there's a symbol, idea, concept or plot structure that appears or surfaces repeatedly in the same work, then it's most likely a motif. Although, there's some similarities between motif and themes. 

The difference between motif and themes is that while Motifs are those details whose recurrence or repetition complements the larger meaning of the work and can take place across a larger collection of works; Themes on the other hand, are the central idea of the work. They are more conceptual and abstract than motif.

So, having a solid understanding of what Motif is—how do you identify what Motif is used in the first line of the haiku poem?

The first line of haiku is  usually called the kigo. And the latter translates to words or phrase that serves as seasonal reference and helps to convey what time of the year or the season in which a haiku is set.

Thus, since traditional haiku are often written on nature or season, the motif used in the first line of the haiku poems is either time, nature or change. 

 Examples of what Motif is used in the first line of the haiku are:
  • failing leaves
  • summer rain
  • winter snow.

Where Haiku First Emerged

The 'haiku' first emerged in poet Matsuo Basho literature during the 17th century. From then, it has spread to other parts of the world and tot different cultures. It is even believed there's a contemporary form of haiku.

Japanese haiku painting

Origin of Haiku

 Haiku was originally started in Japan and now widely recognized and written by most writers around the world. Haiku was initially known as "Hokku" until late 19th century when Masaoka Shiki renamed it to Haiku.  The latter term is now generally applied retrospectively to all hokku appearing irrespective of when they were written, and the use of the term hokku to describe a stand-alone poem is considered obsolete.

Simply, you can describe haiku as a poem of three lines with 5, 7, 5 syllables.
Traditionally, many writers of haiku writers are primarily focused in the expression of emotionally suggestive moments of deep insight I to the natural phenomena through this form of poetry. This traditional approach of writing poetry was solidified and brought into Vogue by "Basho", a popular 17th century poet whose haiku majorly reflected his own emotional state when communing with nature.

Haiku poems are also often full of literary devices such as metaphor and personification. However, this notion have been argued against by various scholars based on the prior idea that haiku are supposed to be written in an objective experiences instead of subjective experiences.

History Of Haiku

The Transformation from Hokku To Haiku:

Hokku is the opening stanza of an orthodox collaborative linked poem, or renga, and of its later derivative, renku (or haikai no renga). By the time of Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), the hokku had begun to appear as an independent poem, and was also incorporated in haibun (a combination of prose and hokku), and haiga (a combination of painting with hokku).

In the 17th century, two masters arose who elevated haiku and gave it a new popularity. They were Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) and Uejima Onitsura (1661–1738). Hokku is the first verse of the collaborative haikai or renku, but its position as the opening verse made it the most important, setting the tone for the whole composition. Although in some occasion, hokku had appeared independently but they were often read and understood in the context of renku.

 Later, The Bashō school promoted standalone hokku by including many in their anthologies, thus giving birth to what is now called "haiku". Bashō also used his hokku as torque points within his short prose sketches and longer travel diaries. This subgenre of haikai is known as haibun. His best-known work, Oku no Hosomichi, or Narrow Roads to the Interior, is counted as one of the classics of Japanese literature and has been translated into English extensively.

Bashō was deified by both the imperial government and Shinto religious headquarters one hundred years after his death because he raised the haikai genre from a playful game of wit to sublime poetry that is widely celebrated in the world. He continues to be revered as a saint of poetry in Japan most widely recognized in the mention of classical Japanese haiku poetry.

The next famous form of haiku poetry was that of Yosa Buson. He was recognized as one of the greatest masters of haiga, a form of art where the painting is expertly combined with either haiku poetry or haiku prose.

However, No new popular style followed Buson. A  very individualistic, and at the same time humanistic, approach to writing haiku was demonstrated by the poet Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827), whose miserable childhood, poverty, sad life, and devotion to the Pure Land sect of Buddhism are evident in his poetry. He was notably recognized for making haiku available to the audience.

Furthermore, a new popular style was developed by Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) who was a reformer and modernizer. A prolific writer, even though chronically ill during a significant part of his life, Shiki disliked the 'stereotype' of haikai writers of the 19th century who were known by the deprecatory term tsukinami, meaning 'monthly', after the monthly or twice-monthly haikai gatherings of the end of the 18th century (in regard to this period of haikai, it came to mean 'trite' and 'hackneyed'). I was noted that he criticized the works of Bason.

He was immensely influenced by the western culture just like the Japanese intellectual world. This was evidenced in his preferences for the painting style of Buson and the European concept of plein air painting which was adopted by him to create a style of haiku as a kind of nature sjetch in words. This approach was later known to be called "Shasei" meaning "sketching from life". He popularized his view is verse columns and essay of newspaper.

Hokku up to the time of Shiki, even when appearing independently, were written in the context of renku. Shiki formally separated his new style of verse from the context of collaborative poetry. Being agnostic, He also separated it from the influence of Buddhism. Further, he discarded the term "hokku" and proposed the term haiku as an abbreviation of the phrase "haikai no ku" meaning a verse of haikai. Although the term predates Shiki by some two centuries, when it was used to mean any verse of haikai. Since then, "haiku" has been the term usually applied in both Japanese and English to all independent haiku, irrespective of their date of composition. Shiki's revisionism dealt a severe blow to renku and surviving haikai schools. The term "hokku" is now used chiefly in its original sense of the opening verse of a renku, and rarely to distinguish haiku written before Shiki's time

Haiku poetry in the modern world was widely accepted and experimented upon. The earliest Western known to have written haiku was a Dutch commissioner, Hendrick Doeff (1764—1834) in the dejima trading Post in Nagaski during the first years of the 19th century. Among his notable works on haiku is this:

Lend me your arms,
Fast as Thunderbolts,
For a pillow on my journey.

Also, the first French man to introduce haiku was Paul Louis Couchoud around 1906 while in Spain, it was experimented upon and developed by several prominent poet such as Joan, Alcover, Antonio Machado, Juan Ramon Jimenez and Luis Cernada while the most prominent haiku poetry writer amongst them was Isaac Del Vando's "La Sombrilla Japonesa in 1924.

However, the first haiku poetry argued to be written in English  was "In A Station of The Metro" by Ezra Pound which was published in 1913 since it's popularity among the English speaking poet.


Due to the popularity acclaimed to haiku poetry writing, haiku have been written by various writers across the globe in different languages and ethnicity while maintaining the method, processes and other aspect of traditional haiku form. Also, haiku are traditionally printed as a single line while haiku in English often appear as three lines in it's printed form.

English haiku can follow the traditional Japanese rules, but are frequently less strict, particularly concerning the number of syllables and subject matter. The loosening of traditional standards has resulted in the term "haiku" being applied to brief English-language poems such as "mathemaku" and other kinds of pseudohaiku. Some sources claim that this is justified by the blurring of definitional boundaries in Japan.

Haiku Examples

old pond
frog leaps in
water's sound

Other examples of haiku are:

Delightful display
Snowdrops bow their pure white heads
To the sun's glory.

Like crunchy cornflakes
Gold leaves rustle underfoot
Beauty in decay

Both haiku poems are written by Paul Holmes 
N.B ( These poems were culled from familyfriendlypoems.com)

Haiku Format and Structures

Below are the needed format and original structures to write a haiku. Adhere strictly to this haiku format in order to appropriately write the haiku according to standard.

  • It contains three lines.
  • It has five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the last line.
  • The total syllables in a haiku is seventeen
  • A Haiku poem does not rhyme.
  • Haiku poems frequently have a kigo, or seasonal reference.
  • Haiku poems are usually about nature or natural phenomena.
  • The poem has two juxtaposed subjects that are divided into two contrasting parts.

However, In English haiku, this division between two parts can be shown by a colon or a dash.

Haiku Rules

  1. The syllables
  2. The three lines
  3. The themes. They must be on nature or season.

Why Haiku Poetry Are Popular?

There are many reason why haiku poetry have been considered an interesting form of poetry in the eyes of most writers, but these are the three greatest reasons.

—The accessibility of haiku as a result of being short and it's fixed form syllables of 5,7,5. Thus, this makes it more easier to write

—The theme of haiku poetry is always fixed in nature and season

—Haiku is mostly enjoyed by readers because of its short form which makes it easy to be remembered.

Controversy as to whether all haiku poetry should be in 5-7-5 syllables.

There has been numerous debates as to whether all haiku should have the 5-7-5 syllables including the contemporary haikus. The answer is No!

One of the haiku experts analyzed that traditional Japanese haiku and contemporary haiku are quite different in terms of syllables as Japanese language usually have the proposed syllables while that of contemporary might not have.

But still, this isn't followed as most believed haiku without the structured syllables is erroneous.


Haiku is a popular traditional Japanese that has been widely accepted and reputed for its uniqueness. Although, it's quite different from other forms of poetry, learning the rules and structures of haiku will serve as a guide as they are aforementioned.


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Pawners Paper: Haiku Definition: Meaning, Origin, Format and Structures, Rules, Examples, Poems
Haiku Definition: Meaning, Origin, Format and Structures, Rules, Examples, Poems
a comprehensive article on haiku definition, as well as the haiku format and structures, rules and examples of haiku, origin of haiku.
Pawners Paper
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