So what is a Haiku?
If you have a good ear for music, you’ve got a head start in writing haiku. But even if you’re not a music fan, don’t worry; it’s easy to pick up the rhythm of this ancient form of Japanese poetry and learn to write a haiku poem yourself.
Haikus are short poems that don’t rhyme, but instead focus on the total number of syllables in each line (syllables are the sounds created by a vowel or sometimes by the letter ‘Y,’ where you pause when saying a word).
Traditional haikus use a total of 17 syllables spread over three lines of text. Most haikus use a formula of 5-7-5: The first and third lines contain five syllables and the middle line contains seven. (Some modern haikus use variations on this formula.)
Though compact in size, a haiku still delivers a message. Some are humorous, while others make an observation or connect two opposing images. Here is an example of a haiku by the poet Basho (1644-1694):
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
In Basho’s haiku, the reader is asked to think about the contrast between the silence of the pond and the noisy splash that the frog makes.
Here’s another example of a more modern haiku by a Western author, James W. Hackett (1929 -)
Half of the minnows
Within this sunlit shallow
Are not really there.
Hackett’s poem makes an interesting observation. His writing causes readers to realize that what you see isn’t always truly there. Half of the minnows in the pond are simply a reflection caused by the sun.
Want to learn how to write a haiku of your own? Take a look at haiku written by our Power Poets, and don't miss these tips on how to get started.
How to Write a Haiku: 5 Tips for Getting Started
- Choose a topic. Nature is the traditional source of inspiration for haikus, but no topics are off limits. What is something that you know or care a lot about? For example, you can write about your pet, your garage band, or your favorite piece of clothing. Get creative when you're learning how to write a haiku!
- Consider the message you’d like to deliver. Why write the poem? What’s especially interesting about your topic? Try to think of a twist or an unexpected connection for your reader to consider. For instance, you could write about how your basketball team had a losing season, but then came around and won the playoffs.
- Follow the formula. Put some words on the page and count the syllables on each line. Change them around until they match the 5-7-5 syllable structure. Reading your words aloud may help you find the right rhythm.
- Use a thesaurus. This tool helps you find synonyms (words that have the same definitions as other words) that will allow you to reach your 5-7-5 syllable count. For instance, the word “nice” is one syllable, “friendly” is two syllables, “sociable” is three syllables, and “personable” is four syllables, but all of those words can be used interchangeably.
- Center it. Once your haiku is complete, center the text on the page (as opposed to aligning it on the left side, like you would for an English paper). That’s the traditional way of presenting a haiku.
Now you know how to write haiku like an expert — feeling ready to try it yourself? Sign up for Power Poetry to share your new haiku with a community of supportive writers, or explore our poetry writing tips for more resources!