What Is Haiku? What Are the Rules?

What Is Haiku?

"Simply what is happening in this place at this moment." - Matsuo Basho

Traditional haiku describes a moment in time using words that awaken the senses. Matsuo Basho, a famous haiku poet, described haiku as "simply what is happening in this place at this moment."

The following haiku is by Basho.

Even a wild boar
With all other things
Blew in this storm.

Though the poem is extremely short, it fully describes Basho's experience with a severe storm. The storm is so strong that even the most brave and solid of creatures runs for safety. Here is another Basho haiku.

Waterjar cracks:
I lie awake
This icy night.

Does this poem make you want to put on a sweater? This very short poem awakens our senses to a bitterly cold, uncomfortable winter night. You can hear the frozen waterjar crack and feel the cold bed that keeps Basho awake.

Learn How to Write Your Own Haiku

Haiku is often used to introduce students to poetry that has a set structure. Structure means that a writer must follow certain rules.

These rules apply to writing haiku:

1. There are no more than 17 syllables.
2. Haiku is composed of only 3 lines.
3. Typically, every first line of Haiku has 5 syllables, the second line has 7 syllables, and the third has 5 syllables.

Free-Style Haiku

A simpler, "free-style" version of haiku is called the lune. A lune can be about absolutely anything. The writer of a lune does not have to count syllables. The first line in a lune is three words, the second line is 5 words, and the third line is 3 words. Here are a few lunes.

The junk man
dreams of a new car,
an old truck.

The fried chicken
did not seem to like
its new home.

A styrofoam stew
fills the stream they call
the mighty Mississippi.

Lets all sing
a bad cheesy pop song
and make millions.

With these rules, you should be able to write your own haiku or lune!