Haiku is a wonderful form of poetry to teach. The rules are fairly simple. It's short, with only three lines, language rich, and doesn't rhyme. The first line has five syllables, the second line seven and the third line five.
The rules may be simple, but haiku as a poetic form is quite deep. The big teaching point I would emphasize with haiku is the importance of word choice. Because haiku is so succinct, every word must be chosen with great intention.
Your students may wonder...what exactly is haiku and when and where did it begin?
Peter Beilenson, author of Japanese Haiku, describes the hokku—or more properly haiku—as a tiny verse-form in which Japanese poets have been writing 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 popular as a separate form. As such it is properly called haiku, and retains an incredible popularity among all classes of Japanese.
There are only seventeen syllables in haiku, the first and third lines contain five, the second line seven. Almost always there is the name of the season, or a key word giving the season by inference. It is also important for students to recognize that haiku do not not have poetry titles, nor do they rhyme. But there is also, in a good haiku, more than a mere statement of feeling or a picture of nature: there is an implied identity between two seemingly different things.
First Line: 7 syllables
Second Line: 5 syllables
Third Line: 7 syllables
The greatest of haiku-writers, and the poet who crystallized the style, was Basho (1644-1694). In his later years he was a student of Zen Buddhism. Basho immersed himself in even the tiniest things, and with religious fervor and sure craftsmanship converted them into poetry. He was ardently loved by his followers, and by later poets, and his Zen philosophy has thus been perpetuated in later haiku. It is, indeed, a key to the completest appreciation of most haiku.
Following Basho in time and fame was Buson (1715-1783)—a little more sophisticated and detached than his predecessor, and an equally exquisite craftsman.
The third great haiku poet was unhappy Issa (1763-1827), a continual butt of fate. He is less poetic but more lovable than Basho and Buson. His tender, witty haiku about his dead children, his bitter poverty, his little insect friends, endear him to every reader.
It is difficult to translate a haiku literally from Japanese and have it remain a poem like it was originally intended. Haiku are full of quotations and allusions which are recognized by literate Japanese but not by us. Haiku are also full of interior double-meanings. Also, the language is used without connecting-words, tenses, pronouns, or indications of singular or plural.
Haiku is not expected to be always a complete or even a clear statement. The reader is supposed to add words of his own associations and imagery, and thus to become a co-creator of his own pleasure in the poem.
The following poems are examples of haiku translated by Peter Beilenson from his book, Japanese Haiku, 1955 (This title fell out of copyright and is now in the public domain.)
SEEK ON HIGH BARE TRAILS
APRIL'S AIR STIRS IN
WILLOW-LEAVES ...A BUTTERFLY
FLOATS AND BALANCES
IN THE SEA-SURF EDGE
MINGLING WITH BRIGHT SMALL SHELLS ...
BLACK CLOUDBANK BROKEN
SCATTERS IN THE NIGHT ... NOW SEE
MY TWO PLUM TREES ARE
SO GRACIOUS ...SEE, THEY FLOWER
ONE NOW, ONE LATER
STANDING STILL AT DUSK
LISTEN ... IN FAR DISTANCES
THE SONG OF FROGLINGS!
A GATE MADE OF TWIGS
WITH WOVEN GRASS FOR HINGES ...
FOR A LOCK ... THIS SNAIL
IN THE CITY FIELDS
CONTEMPLATING CHERRY-TREES ...
STRANGERS ARE LIKE FRIENDS
ARISE FROM SLEEP, CAT,
AND WITH GREAT YAWNS AND STRETCHINGS ...
AMBLE OUT FOR LOVE
DIM THE GREY COW COMES
MOOING MOOING AND MOOING ...
OUT OF THE MORNING MIST
The following poems were featured in Poetry Lore: A Magazine of Letters, published in 1918.
Haiku of Yone NOGUCHI (1875-1947)
Bits of song—what else?
I, a rider of the stream,
Lone between the clouds.
When the flowers sleep,
Thank God! I shall sleep, tonight.
Oh, come, butterfly!
Lo, light and shadow
Journey to the home of night:
Though and I – to Love!
What is it? Is it
The great voice of judgment day?
Lo, pilgrims in waves!
Waking or sleeping?
Oh “No-More” older than world!
Be gone, earthly care!
This is a lovely counting book written in haiku.
This collection of haiku is especially written with "guys" in mind.
I love this little collection of animal haiku by my favorite contemporary children's poet, Jack Prelutsky. Written as riddles, these poems provide a fun twist on traditional haiku. Some people may be surprised that humor-focused Jack Prelutsky has written haiku, but fortunately his unique "Prelutskyness" still comes shining through.