Haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. Ideally, it can be identified by 3 distinct elements – its length, its subject matter & a dichotomy between the first and last parts of the poem defined by the position of a ‘cutting’ word
In length, a haiku should be 17 ‘on‘. In English, this is sometimes interpreted as ‘syllables’ but is more correctly described as ‘beats’. For example, the word ‘TOKYO’ is three syllables long (TO – KY – O) but when pronounced in Japanese it is four on (TO-o – KY – O) in length. The subject matter of a haiku was originally drawn from a specified list of words, mostly (but not exclusively) ‘nature’ subjects. The cutting word, called the kireji, can appear at the end of either the first set or second set of on (originally haiku were not written in three lines; that is a Western convention designed to emphasise the kireji) and serves to define the tone of the poem. If the first part of the poem is the shorter of two distinct ideas, the kireji is intended to direct the reader to question something; if the first part is longer, then the kireji serves to point the reader to a conclusion drawn instead.

Now, that’s all very compressed and there’s far more to the technicalities of haiku than I know. In fact, I’m sure that even that brief definition is probably imprecise and incorrect in some way or other. That’s because Japanese language is an extension of Japanese thought, and poetry is an extension of a culture’s language. I come from a long line of people who write words made of letters that represent individual sounds, left to right across the page in lines that start at the top and work to the bottom, broken by punctuation symbols like comma, colon & apostrophe among others. I don’t come from a long line of people whose literature exists in pictograms, where one symbol represents a whole word. The nearest we in the West come to that is the ampersand (&) and the ten numerals. I only point all this out because a purist will no doubt find my haiku very lacking in the basic elements, and I excuse myself by the fact that I am doing the best I can with my cultural limitations.

Sunrise Haiku

Rise with me and watch
Clouds of pale pink and silver
Help us greet the day

© Darryn Roberts 2003

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