How To Write A Haiku: Tips And Examples

by Min Straussman

Writing poetry
can be as simple as just
crafting a haiku

Many find the poetic form intimidating, but haiku is a great starting point for learning to both read and write poetry. As you can see from our short introductory haiku, these poems are short and to-the-point. In this article, you will learn about the haiku form, how to write your own haiku, and get inspiration from some examples of this kind of poetry, both traditional and modern.

What is haiku?

A haiku [ hahy-koo ] is a non-rhyming poem of three lines that follows a 5-7-5 syllable pattern:

5 syllable line
7 syllable line
5 syllable line

A syllable is a unit of a word that contains one vowel sound and often the surrounding consonants. For example, the word syllable is made of three syllables: syl – la – ble. In English, you can count the number of syllables by clapping each time you hear a vowel sound when you pronounce the word.

Take, for example, this haiku by Daniela Misso. The dashes are added to show the syllables.

taste of morn – ing tea (5 syllables)
the del – i – cate ray of sun (7 syllables)
through an ic- i -cle (5 syllables)

The name haiku and the form itself come from Japanese. Because the word comes from Japanese, it does not take an -s at the end for a plural (eg., two haiku). It is derived from the Japanese haikai, itself a form of comic poetry, short for haikai no renga meaning “jesting (linked verse).” The -ku in haiku means “stanza.”  In traditional haikai, which is closely associated with the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, the focus was on humorous wordplay. The haiku was initially the opening stanza of longer poetic forms, but eventually came to stand on its own.

In traditional Japanese poetry, the haiku contains a specific reference to nature or seasonal change, as well as a “cutting word,” known as a kireji, in the middle of the poem. In English haiku, it is not necessary to adhere to these traditional guidelines. However, themes of nature and seasonal change are still often found. Additionally, instead of the Japanese kireji, English-language writers will often create juxtaposition by describing one image in the first two lines of the poem and a second image in the third line.

Eunoia? Caziques? Hiccough? What’s so special about these unusual words? Find out with our 13 weird, wondrous facts about English.

How to write a haiku

Step one: Choose a subject for your poem. This can be anything. As we noted, in traditional Japanese haiku, themes of nature and the changing of seasons are most common. However, you are free to pick any image you feel a connection to. Typically, the goal is to use the image as a metaphor or to evoke a particular feeling.

Some examples of haiku topics are: a particular plant or animal, like a pine tree or a robin; an everyday action or event, like walking the dog or making breakfast; or, an object that is special to you, like a photograph or a piece of jewelry.

Step two (optional): Once you have chosen your object or image, brainstorm words, particularly adjectives or verbs, that you associate with the object. It is best to do this while looking at the thing itself, either while outside in nature or at a picture of the thing. You can always use as well to find sophisticated descriptive language.

Step three: Draft your haiku. When you are drafting, don’t worry too much about counting syllables. You will edit and revise your haiku later to make sure it fits the form (or, perhaps, doesn’t). The goal at this stage is simply to capture the image and feeling you want to connect with.

Step four: Revise your haiku. At this point, you will want to read it aloud to make sure the poem sounds correct. You will also want to count the syllables to make sure it follows the 5-7-5 pattern. 

Step five: Share your haiku. Poetry is an art form that creates a connection between the writer’s image and the audience’s emotions; it is meant to be shared. Haiku in particular lends itself to illustration, so you may consider adding a picture or drawing of the object to really make the message clear to your reader.

Examples of haiku

We have given the basic guidelines of how to write a haiku, but what does it look like in practice? Let’s take a look at some haiku for inspiration. 

Novelist Richard Wright was particularly interested in haiku later in his life. He would compile scrapbooks of dozens, if not hundreds, of haiku that he wrote. Here is just one example of his many haiku:

And now once again
Winter wind breathes sighingly
Amid the pine trees. 

This is a great example of a classic English-language haiku. It follows the 5-7-5 non-rhyming pattern. It also describes a seasonal, natural scene: cold wind blowing in pine trees. Like many haiku, there is something melancholy about the image.

In translation into English, Japanese haiku typically do not adhere to the traditional 5-7-5 pattern, but they give us a good idea of the kind of feelings and imagery this kind of poetry often employs. Take a look at this haiku by the 17th-century master Matsuo Bashō:

In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus—
A lovely sunset

Here, we have a natural scene set in spring and two images juxtaposed: the hibiscus (a kind of flower) and the sunset. Both are lovely, colorful images that are connected in the poem to one another.

Not all Japanese haiku use this kind of structure though, such as this example from Masaoaka Shiki, a 19th-century poet who was a leader in developing the modern haiku:

Consider me
As one who loved poetry
And persimmons.

This haiku is much more personal and demands that the reader acknowledge the poetic narrator rather than a particular natural scene. 

Other modern haiku in English have followed Shiki’s lead and moved away from natural scenes to put the narrator in the center of the poem’s image, such as this poem by Carol A. Coiffait: 

This Autumn midnight
Orion’s at my window
shouting for his dog.

While this poem uses the 5-7-5 non-rhyming structure that is connected to a particular season, it depicts a very different image, one that personifies the constellations of Orion and one of his hunting dogs (either Canis Minor or Canis Major). 

Of course, some Anglophone writers do away with the 5-7-5 structure altogether, as in this example from Jack Kerouac, a writer who was not known for following literary tradition: 

Holding up my
purring cat to the moon
I sighed

This poem uses an unusual 4-6-2 syllable structure. For all that though, it still has aspects of a traditional haiku: three lines, juxtaposed images, and a natural element (the moon). 

As the writer, you can decide whether you want to follow all of the rules of haiku, some of them, or none of them. But at least you now know what they are! We hope you find these examples inspiring and that you use them as a jumping-off point to find something in your own life to capture in verse.

Min Straussman is a freelance writer and educator from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A frequent contributor to and, his work has also appeared in Hey Almabeestung, and other publications. He lives in Paris. For more by Min, read: Terms For Understanding The Diversity Of Jewish American Life | A Language Of Pride: Understand The Terms Around LGBTQ Identity |7 Meaningful Ways To Express Your Gratitude | 15 Earth Day Quotes That Remind Us To Appreciate And Preserve Our World

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