In Praise of Haiku

For writers with a serious case of long-windedness, the best cure is a few doses of the humble Haiku. And for readers who have little patience with poetry, it can serve as a delicious starter, so much so that one is often left drooling for more.

A Haiku is a very short poem, mostly written in 3 lines (but can also be fit into a single line). The orthodox writers of haiku will surely be well-versed with the 5-7-5 syllable rule of constructing it. And it is often fun to play with words. However, the liberal writers won’t consider it a crime to let go of this Math. If certain combinations of words paint a better image along with pleasing the ear, they’d be glad to break the rules giving way to ‘free-form haiku’.

Basho may be considered as the first hero of this genre. He is also known to have sketched haikus in the middle of travel diaries, knitting verse with prose— a form termed as ‘Haibun’.

the old pond
a frog leaps in
splash.

Another gripping writer is Buson. He often combined haikus with paintings—a form termed as ‘Haiga’.

before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

Issa’s rain Haiku remains one of the best—

how many gallons
of Edo’s rain did you drink, cuckoo?

Till then, it was known as ‘Hokku’. Shiki transformed it into ‘Haiku’, meaning a verse of a longer poem; that can be read independent of the larger context.

after the storm
a boy wiping
the sky from the tables.

Haiku originated in Japan, but it made a place for itself world-wide—including India. Tagore, after visiting Japan, was deeply inspired by this form of poetry. In addition to writing Bengali haikus, he also translated them from Japanese.

The sparrow is sorry for the peacock at the burden of its tail.

Doesn’t it wonderfully show how the little, ordinary sparrow mocks the proud peacock?

Another witty haiku-like poem is:

The woodcutter’s axe begged for its handle from the tree.
The tree gave it.

Snehrashmi introduced haikus in Gujarati in as early as the 1960s. Among the contemporary poets, Omer Tarin is a well-known Pakistani poet who practises this art form; Vikram Seth’s “Haiku” (from summer requiem, 2015) is a poem of 14 stanzas, each written in the 5-7-5 pattern. It is a single poem but most of the stanzas can be read as independent Haikus—

through the winter night
sleep won’t come and thoughts go round:
yowling cats on heat…

It is fascinating to witness a mighty discussion that a tiny haiku may provoke. On the other hand, many haikus are designed to freeze a single moment— its “simplicity” and “elegance”. Therefore the “Lit” students who generally undergo a rigorous training to dig out multiple meanings, might end up scratching their heads in vain. They should realize that dissecting verses is not always a good idea. Sometimes it is best to just sit back in wonder, at a certain emotion that a poem may evoke.

Now if you think that writing Haiku is a quick fix, you are committing an error. It can be a real challenge to ration your words—to be choosy, to pick the best out of what may appear to be good, to delight your readers in three short lines— to click an unforgettable image.

-Samreen Sajeda

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Mad Shopper says:

    I never knew what a Haiku was until I read your post! Great post

    Liked by 1 person

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