Word of the day – haiku

the word haiku in Japanese kanjiAs I’m sure many of you know, haiku (俳句) are short Japanese poems made of of 17 syllables usually in 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. The only Japanese haiku I can remember is:

古池や (furu ike ya)
蛙飛びこむ (kawazu tobikomu)
水の音 (mizu no oto)

An old pond
a frog jumps in

There are many other English versions of this famous haiku by Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉) here. It’s amazing the number of different ways such a seemingly simple poem can be translated.

Haiku are not only written in Japanese. Non-Japanese haiku don’t always have exactly 17 syllables, but they usually a similar structure to the Japanese ones. Here are a few examples I came across recently in Scots:

Reid cluds lemin
at keek-o-day – refleckit
in the cray glaur

Red clouds glowing
at sunrise – reflected
in the pigsty mud

Hauf-road up the glen
a daurk wee lochan –
a cran tentie

Halfway up the glen
a dark little loch –
a heron watchful

Birlin doon
the rowth o gean blume
taigles a bummer

Swirling down
the plenteous cherry blossom
delays a bee

Do you know of any haiku in other languages? Or have you written any yourself?

11 thoughts on “Word of the day – haiku

  1. Here’s one I wrote years and years ago:

    the breeze softly blows
    through lovely green sunlit fields
    winds of change or spring ?

    The above is the original written in English even though I am Dutch. If I write ‘lyrical’ things I normally write in English.

    I seem to remember that we actually were given the writing of some haiku’s as a secondary school homework exercise at some point. Probably in Dutch classes.
    I haven’t got a clue if I still have those scribbles around though.

    Even so, what about this for a Dutch one (made up on the spot and free form):

    Zo veel werk te doen
    het einde nimmer in zicht
    bijna vakantie

    (so much work to do
    the end is never in sight
    almost holiday)

    (and yes, I am run down by work and luckely very soon going on a holiday 😉 Going to Zambia !)

  2. All those translations just vary in how close they are to the ‘real’ – the word by word translation. However, I think the shortest translations fit best, since they come closest to the “look” of the original. Else you could also write a whole story like this one from that translations page:

    There once was a curious frog
    Who sat by a pond on a log
    And, to see what resulted,
    In the pond catapulted
    With a water-noise heard round the bog.

    That somehow is a translation as well, and it even rhymes, but it’s just too long.
    The one you chose fits it better. Just three short lines.


    Anyway, you got those hiragana in the middle row wrong – or the transcription. The kana read “bi/pi* komu” right now and the transcription says “mi komi”. Or is this recent pronunciation with ‘ancient’ orthography?

    *can’t really tell if this is a circle or two dots there – the font is too small 😉

  3. I, too thought it was, partly, just a variant orthography or archaic. Especially since in Korean, what sounds like an “m” is sometimes spelled with a “b/p” (e.g. kamsahaBnida[Thanks]).

    As for “み” vs. “む” Well, I just thought I’d forgotten how to read.

  4. I actually try to use poetry to help with my studies. I wrote a haiku in Japanese:
    朝日影 asahikage
    魚は泳ぐ sakana wa oyogu
    水明だ suimei da

    Morning Sunlight
    Fish swims
    Shimmering water

    Of course it was before I learned about kigo and the ‘da’ in the last line was a cop out to fit the number mora. But, I have learned a lot studying poetry of the different languages I am playing with and it is fun to learn how other languages and cultures use idioms, words, and different styles to create their poetry.

  5. Having studied poetry recently for school, I’m familiar with haiku, but it seems to me that the haiku form is much more suited to languages like Japanese than English. I don’t know if it’s just me or not, but I just don’t think English haiku is all that spectacular. Anyone else have any insight on this sort of thing?

  6. Maybe so Benjamin. Many aspects of Japanese culture seem to value the compactness of nature and expression. A few words are sufficiently powerful in a society with a tradition in the meditative arts. In English traditional poetry, the picture grows from a longer train of melodic words, and many more verses besides. It reflects a different set of perspectives that are equally beautiful. Since Haiku was developed in Japan, it is perhaps better suited to that language than English… though there are always exceptions.

  7. Besides Haiku, in Japan they also use Tankas, which are longer sentences but in same structure. I like them.

  8. In spanish:

    “Roja y fría
    de sandía”

    Tanslation, more or less literal:
    Red and cold

    I have read many other but now I cannot remember completely, but this one seems to me very expresive.

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