Haiku: A Brief History
The haiku form was developed in Japan and later became popular in the United States. Haiku is the shortest form of poetry in Japan. It tells a story or suggests a mental picture of something that happens in nature. Many descriptive words are used in haiku. The modern form of haiku dates from the 1890s and developed from earlier forms of poetry, hokku and haikai. The great Japanese master of haiku was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). The name Basho means “banana tree” and was adopted by the poet when he moved into a hut located next to a banana tree.
It is a Japanese poem composed of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five moras (a unit of sound that determines syllable weight in some languages) respectively, usually about some form of nature. Although haiku poems are often stated to have 17 syllables, this is inaccurate as syllables and moras are not the same. Haiku typically contain a kigo (seasonal reference), and a kireji (cutting word). In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line and tend to take aspects of the natural world as their subject matter, while haiku in English often appear in three lines to parallel the three phrases of Japanese haiku and may deal with any subject matter.
An example of classic hokku by Bashô:
Another Bashô classic:
Famous Haiku Poets