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Brief History of Haiku

Often, we see poetry as a composition formed by combining different verses, which may or may not rhyme. But there is another, simpler form of poetry, called haiku.

Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry that originated from the late 19th century. Haikus traditionally follow a five-seven-five morae pattern, mora being the most basic phonetic unit. Another traditional characteristic of haiku is the inclusion of kigo, or the season word that implies the setting of the haiku.

Early Japanese haiku poets like Matsuo Basho and Ueshima Onitsura convey strong visuals and emotions with few words. A similar poetry form is senryu, which emphasizes humor.

Haiku made its way to the West during World War II. Haiku’s appeal lies in its impact despite using only very few words. In more modern times, haiku is seen as a form of “instant verse” that can be taught to and done easily by schoolchildren, as well as older poets.

Haiku was originally known as hokku in the 16th century, and a chain of linked hokku was referred to as haikai no renga. Later on, an opening verse separated from renga was referred to as haiku, and the term stuck.

Later on, it became popular for artists to write calligraphic haiku on their artwork. These pieces became known as haiga. To this day, haiku is often combined with paintings, photographs, and other media.

In the West, many poets of the Beat Generation such as Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg also adopted the haiku form, other than the traditional verse form they are known for. In English, the 5-7-5 syllable pattern is also retained.

Today, modern haiku tackles topics avoided by the traditional form, such as romance, sex, and violence. Common practices of contemporary haiku include the use of three or fewer lines with a maximum of 17 syllables; the use of metrical feet instead of syllables, with the pattern 2-3-2; and the use of audible pause to contrast and compare two events and situations.

Haiku, although not very present in pop culture, remains to be one of the most popular forms of poetry.



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