A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 29 July 2013


two pileated
woodpeckers high in the oaks,
an acorn hits the roof

blueberries in a
pancake, midnight planets and
no less mystery

kayak in mist, no
memory card in the camera,
clicking away with joy

These three delightful haiku are part of Ruth Mowry's recent series of 'lake haiku', which you can find here and here on her blog washed stones.

But what is a haiku? The more you examine it 'intellectually', the more it eludes your grasp. And there's the answer! The haiku is no intellectual concept, no tricksy word game, no gaudy and intricate peacock of a poem. A haiku is the distilled essence of an objective, lived experience, simply and subtly told. I don't think a haiku is to be analysed; I think it's to be seen, heard, felt. Ruth herself feels that haiku enunciate a moment . . . experienced in the most condensed form and that writing haiku is practice in looking, listening, and finding the smallest connection a moment offers.

A haiku does not preach; it shows, not tells. Henry Miller writes this about the haiku in his essay Children Of The Earth

When all is said, I nevertheless concede that as long as I continue to write I remain perforce a propagandist. Only one kind of writing have I ever found which is devoid of this lamentable element, and that is the Japanese haiku. It is a form of poetry limited to so many syllables wherein the poet expresses his love, usually of nature, without making comparisons, without the use of superlatives. He tells only what is, or how it is. The effect, upon the Western reader at least, is usually one of jubilation. It is as if a weight had been taken from his shoulders. He feels absolved. 'Amen!' is all he can exclaim.

To live one's life in this spirit which informs the haiku strikes me as an ultimate . . . 

Having said this, there are certain semi-formal elements common to many successful haiku: the structure is usually (but not always) one of three short lines (these may have a 5-7-5 arrangement of syllables, but it's no strict rule); there's often a juxtaposition of two ideas which connect in a surprising way; many haiku contain references to the season of the year and to the natural world. But I'm analysing and intellectualising again. As soon as you try to pin down a haiku-butterfly, it flutters away. But you know one when you see one, hear one, feel one.

Inspired by Ruth's haiku, I attempted a couple of my own earlier this morning:

beyond human sight
in the reeds a bittern booms;
i feel my heart beat

your cheeks and lips are
salty with tears; far away
the moan of the sea

It occurs to me that, although it's actually quite difficult to write a really good haiku, it's an excellent way for the novice poet to try his or her hand at poetry for the first time.


Emily Brisse said...

The second one at the top is my favorite. Lovely blog... Basho is, well, healing on a hot day.

Ruth said...

Robert, I love your haiku! They contain the beautiful leaps that lead me to a human story.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, both. And a belated welcome, Emily!