Friday, January 13, 2006


The hokku, or more properly the haiku, is a tiny verse-form in which Japanese poets have been working for hundreds of years. Originally it was the first part of the tanka, a five-line poem, often written by two people as a literary game: one writing three lines, the other, two lines capping them.

But the hokku, or three-line starting verse, became enormously popular as a separate form. There are only seventeen syllables, the first and the third lines containing five, the second line seven. There is almost always a key word which denotes the season of the year - either directly or by inference. And there is always, in good haiku, more than a mere statement of feeling, or a mere picture-poem. There is a switch to a different viewpoint in the course of the poem - a switch signaled in Japanese by a "cut-word" - which makes the poem an implied metaphor.

Some favorites:

One fallen flower
returning to the
branch?...Oh No!
A white butterfly

Since there is no rice...
Let us arrange these
for a lovely bowl

Old dark sleepy pool...
green unexpected
Goes plop! watersplash!

Far across low mist
The lake
Lifts a snow-white sail

Don't touch my plumtree
My friend said,
and saying so...
broke the branch for me

In the city park
strangers are like friends


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