understanding haiku

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A resource for the grade 9 ELA curriculum module, Global Approaches to Nature Poetry


  • 1.Understanding HaikuObserving Nature Through Poetry

2. Experiencing the Natural World Haiku (HI-coo) is a form of poetry, firstmade popular in ancient Japan, that hasbecome appreciated around the world. It is also a way of experiencing theworld, especially the natural world. It tries to capture an a-ha momentresulting from observing nature. 3. Achieving Enlightenment Poets felt that by observingnature, they could achieveenlightenment. The Japanese term for enlightenmentis satori (sa-TOR-ee). Satori or enlightenment occurs in themoment when the poet/reader isunited with the object of nature heor she is observing. 4. Haiku Structure Haiku does not have a title. Lines of haiku do not rhyme. Haiku does not use similes or metaphors. Traditional haiku consists of 3 lines: Line 1 = 5 syllables Line 2 = 7 syllables Line 3 = 5 syllables 5. Haiku Images Japanese haiku typically joinstogether two images. Images are a direct observation ofnature, simple and objective, notabstract. Haiku images are perceived throughone of your five senses. 6. Cuts and Pivot Words A cut is a punctuation mark (such as acomma, hyphen, ellipsis, or colon) thatseparates the two images in a haiku. A pivot word is the key word in thepoem. It applies to both images andaffects our perception of how theimages relate. The pivot word oftengives you an idea how the poet wantsyou to connect the two images. It can beas simple as a preposition such as in. 7. Joining Images The two images in haiku are usuallyjoined together to provide one ofthree things: A comparison A contrast An association of some kind Images are joined to provide ana-ha moment, a deeply observedmoment in time 8. The Importance of a Season Every haiku includes a kigo (KEE-go), anatural image that helps the readeridentify the season. In some haiku, the kigo is a specificmention of the season(spring, winter, autumn, or summer). 9. The Importance of a Season Other haiku use an image that is meantto evoke a particular season. Forexample, snow evoke winter, fallingleaves evoke autumn, and so on. Some Japanese haiku depend on thereader to know when a naturalphenomenon is most likely to occur. Forexample, cherry blossoms symbolizespring to a Japanese reader, and frogssymbolize summer. 10. Modern Haiku Many English haiku poets andtranslators believe that adhering to the17-syllable structure is less importantthan maintaining brevity and sharing thewriters experience of the moment. They believe that a more compressedform of 11 to 13 syllables for the entirehaiku (with no specific syllable count foreach line) better captures the spirit ofJapanese haiku. 11. 17th Century Japanese Poet Matsuo Bash 12. Haiku by Matsuo BashExample #1The old pond:A frog jumps inThe sound of water. Translated by R.H. Blyth 13. Haiku by Matsuo BashExample #2A clear waterfallInto the ripplesFall green pine-needles.Translated by R.H. Blyth 14. Haiku by Matsuo BashExample #3Winter solitudeIn a world of one colorThe sound of wind.Translated by R.H. Blyth 15. Haiku by Matsuo BashExample #4Spring airWoven moodAnd plum scent. Translated by R.H. Blyth