Haiku and the Japanese Master Basho

Water garden MGD©Matsuo Basho, who lived in Japan from 1644 – 1694, was the most famous poet of the Edo period. During his lifetime, Basho was recognized for his works; and today, after centuries of commentary, he is often considered to be the greatest master of haiku. His poetry is internationally renowned; and, in Japan, many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites.

If you are interest in writing haiku reading Basho is a good place to start, especially since he was known to really play with the form and bend the rules. Rather than sticking to the formula of traditional haiku poems that involves focus on a season, Basho was more interested in reflecting his real environment and emotions in his haiku.

While the structure of haiku calls for three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, Basho often broke this rule too, saying “If you have three or four, even five or seven extra syllables but the poem sounds good, don’t worry about it. But if one syllable stops the tongue, look at it hard.” I find that to be extraordinarily good advice.

Here are a few example to get you started. Play with the possibilities. Have fun with it.

A snowy morning–
by myself,
chewing on dried salmon.

furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water

A bee
staggers out
of the peony.

A caterpillar,
this deep in fall–
still not a butterfly.

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