Aside from the syllable count what else do I need consider when writing a Haiku? I'm referring to the English imitation of a Haiku.

I have been told that the first two lines should be descriptions and the third line should be the conclusion. But I've noticed that this is not always true.

Does a Haiku need to be about nature?

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    I guess you are referring to the English imitation of a Haiku. – apaderno Aug 24 '10 at 8:41
  • Yes, the English version. – Dian Aug 24 '10 at 8:45
  • Fascinating question, should probably be community wiki in its current form. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Aug 25 '10 at 1:38
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    @Neil: to be clear, I'm actually asking for a set of rules not asking one rule per answer. I edited the question to better convey this. :D – Dian Aug 25 '10 at 2:25
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    Pro tip: Don't send a thank-you letter written in attempted haiku to a relative who's a retired English teacher unless you're prepared to deal with the consequences. – mmyers Aug 25 '10 at 4:21

The simple answer is that if Haiku is not about nature, it is called Senryu. I've heard different views on whether the Japanese definition is different than the non-Japanese ones, and whether the syllable counts can differ.

There seems to be some subjectivity on definitions, in English poetry at least. I think the following is Senryu, but you could make a case for it being Haiku:

Bugs fall like rain upon my code
compiler shrieks like the wind
Blue Screen

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    "I've heard different views on..." how does that count as an answer to the question? – delete Aug 25 '10 at 3:11
  • I also heard different views, which is why I asked this question. (btw, that haiku is awesome, did you write it?) – Dian Aug 25 '10 at 4:01
  • @Dian - yes, thanks, and I wrote it in 3 minutes (not hard when you have a 17 syllable attention span). I thought it would be drifting off topic to go on about the differing views on Senryu vs Haiku, but Wikipedia has a good summary. I hoped my example caught the gray area between them. – Taldaugion Aug 25 '10 at 6:45

The idea of a haiku in English doesn't really make that much sense. First of all, you might want to note that the whole idea of seventeen syllables is a bogus one. A Japanese haiku consists of seventeen moras (beats) rather than seventeen syllables. E.g. Tokyo ("To-u-kyo-u" in Japanese) is four moras but two syllables. A haiku should have seventeen of these moras, not seventeen syllables.

One rule I can think of is that traditionally Japanese haiku had to start with a "seasonal word" ("kigo" in Japanese). But there are no "seasonal words" in English. Nowadays the haiku printed on tea cans in Japan don't have seasonal words so that is purely a traditional arrangement.

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    So are you saying that English haiku have no clear rules? – Dian Aug 25 '10 at 3:56
  • @Dian: I have no idea whether English haiku have clear rules or not. I don't see anywhere in my answer where I comment on that. – delete Aug 25 '10 at 4:14
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    Oh okay. I just assumed since you didn't mention it. What I wanted to know was rules in making an English haiku, sorry if I didn't make it clear in the question. :( – Dian Aug 25 '10 at 5:21
  • But ... English doesn't have mora, it has syllables. Mora don't make any sense in English. Syllables are the closest English equivalent. – Peter Shor Mar 17 '15 at 17:41

Use the first two lines
To establish the context;
Then go for the kill.

  • Is this a standard (for all haiku)? – Dian Aug 25 '10 at 3:54
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    @Dian: it seems to be a convention for haiku in English, but I base this purely on observation. I don't know that there's any standard as such. – Steve Melnikoff Aug 25 '10 at 8:15
  • Oh okay. (btw, nice haiku) :D – Dian Aug 26 '10 at 1:26

I adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable scheme, because... well, I was taught that when young and I'm too old to change. The key idea is "do not waste even a syllable".

So, my opinion is that:

  1. A haiku should Have 3 very short lines; personally, I'm stuck on 5-7-5.
  2. It should meld two discordant notions and
  3. Say something that has never been said before.
  4. Big bonus points if your second line applies clearly to both your first and your third lines, very cool.
  5. Topic doesn't matter. Be you.

This is my personal opinion, not a scholarly attempt to answer the question. I understand that in English, we can say a lot more in 17 syllables than they can in Japanese. Regardless, the idea is to say a lot with a little. Make the reader think.


poetic aspects

should fall gently, from the page

like leaves in autumn


First, pick your subject

Write down some words about it

Count your syllables

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