When Was Haiku Poems?

by Amy

Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry known for its brevity, depth, and simplicity. Composed of three lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5, haiku captures the essence of a moment, often reflecting nature, seasons, and human experiences. Despite its simple structure, haiku holds significant cultural and literary value, embodying profound philosophical and aesthetic principles. This article explores the origins, development, and enduring legacy of haiku, tracing its historical journey from early Japanese poetry to its modern adaptations and global influence.

Origins of Haiku

Haiku has its roots in several early forms of Japanese poetry, including tanka, renga, and hokku.

Tanka: Tanka, meaning “short poem,” is a 31-syllable poem divided into five lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. It dates back to the 7th century and was a prominent poetic form during the Heian period (794-1185). Tanka often depicted emotions, nature, and courtly life, serving as a foundation for later poetic forms.

Renga: Renga, meaning “linked poem,” emerged during the Heian period as a collaborative form of poetry where multiple poets contributed alternating stanzas. A typical renga sequence started with a hokku (opening verse) of 5-7-5 syllables, followed by a 7-7 syllable response. This back-and-forth continued, creating a long chain of linked verses.

Hokku: Hokku, the opening verse of a renga, eventually gained prominence as a standalone poem. The hokku’s concise 5-7-5 structure and its role in setting the thematic and seasonal tone for the renga sequence laid the groundwork for the emergence of haiku.

Development and Evolution

The Edo period (1603-1868) was a time of cultural flourishing in Japan, marked by the rise of haiku as a distinct poetic form. During this period, haiku evolved from the hokku, shedding its collaborative context and becoming an independent art form.

One of the most influential figures in the development of haiku was Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694). Bashō transformed hokku into haiku by emphasizing simplicity, depth, and a profound connection to nature. His work elevated haiku from a playful literary exercise to a respected art form. Bashō’s haiku often captured fleeting moments in nature with vivid imagery and deep emotional resonance. For example, Bashō’s famous haiku:

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.

This haiku encapsulates a moment of stillness interrupted by a sudden sound, reflecting Bashō’s mastery of simplicity and profound observation.

See also: When Was Haiku Popular?

Key Historical Milestones

During the Edo period, haiku was firmly established as a unique form of poetry. Besides Bashō, other notable poets like Yosa Buson (1716-1784) and Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) contributed to the growth and refinement of haiku. Buson was known for his painterly approach, creating haiku with vivid and detailed imagery, while Issa’s haiku often conveyed a deep empathy and connection with the natural world.

Meiji Period: Modernization and Masaoka Shiki’s Reforms

The Meiji period (1868-1912) brought significant changes to Japan, including the modernization of its literary forms. Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) played a crucial role in the transformation of haiku during this time. Shiki advocated for a more realistic and less formulaic approach to haiku, coining the term “haiku” to distinguish it from hokku and other forms. His reforms emphasized the importance of individual expression and the accurate depiction of nature.

Shiki’s influence led to the modernization of haiku, making it more accessible and adaptable to contemporary themes and experiences. His approach laid the groundwork for the continued evolution of haiku in the 20th century and beyond.

Post-Meiji Period: Globalization and Contemporary Haiku

After the Meiji period, haiku continued to evolve and spread beyond Japan. The early 20th century saw a growing interest in haiku among Western poets, leading to its adoption and adaptation in various languages and cultures. Influential Western poets such as Ezra Pound and Jack Kerouac experimented with haiku, integrating its principles into their own literary traditions.

In Japan, haiku continued to flourish, with poets like Shūji Terayama and Santōka Taneda exploring new themes and forms. Contemporary haiku often incorporates modern life, urban landscapes, and personal reflections, while still maintaining the traditional emphasis on brevity and depth.

Impact of Haiku on Japanese Culture

Haiku embodies several key aspects of Japanese culture and philosophy, including:

Wabi-Sabi: The aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi appreciates the beauty of imperfection and transience. Haiku often captures fleeting moments, reflecting the impermanent nature of life and the world.

Mono no Aware: This concept refers to the sensitivity to the ephemerality of things. Haiku’s focus on capturing transient moments aligns with this philosophical outlook, evoking a sense of gentle sadness and appreciation for the passage of time.

Zen Buddhism: The influence of Zen Buddhism is evident in haiku’s simplicity, mindfulness, and focus on the present moment. Haiku encourages a deep connection with nature and an awareness of the here and now.

Haiku’s integration of these cultural and philosophical principles has made it an enduring and revered form of poetry in Japan. It is not only a literary exercise but also a way of experiencing and understanding the world.

Haiku in the Modern Era

In the modern era, haiku has adapted to encompass a wide range of themes and subjects. While traditional haiku focuses on nature and the seasons, contemporary haiku often explores urban life, technology, personal experiences, and social issues.

Modern haiku poets continue to innovate within the form, experimenting with language, imagery, and structure. Despite these changes, the core principles of brevity, simplicity, and depth remain central to haiku.

Influence on Global Poetry

Haiku’s influence extends far beyond Japan. Western poets and writers have embraced haiku, integrating its principles into their own literary traditions. The simplicity and universality of haiku have made it an appealing form for poets around the world.

The global spread of haiku has also led to the development of haiku communities and societies, fostering a cross-cultural exchange of ideas and practices. Haiku has become a truly international form of poetry, appreciated and practiced by people of diverse backgrounds.

Notable Haiku Collections and Publications

Several important anthologies and translations have contributed to the preservation and popularization of haiku:

“The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa” edited by Robert Hass: This collection provides translations of classic haiku by the great masters, along with insightful commentary.

“The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku” by William J. Higginson: A comprehensive guide to writing and appreciating haiku, suitable for beginners and experienced poets alike.

“Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years” edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns: An anthology of English-language haiku, showcasing the evolution of the form outside Japan.


Haiku’s journey from its origins in early Japanese poetry to its modern adaptations and global influence is a testament to its enduring appeal and versatility. This concise and evocative form of poetry has captured the imagination of poets and readers for centuries, offering a unique way to experience and reflect on the world.

From the foundational works of Matsuo Bashō to the modern innovations of contemporary poets, haiku continues to evolve while remaining true to its core principles. Its emphasis on simplicity, depth, and the fleeting nature of life resonates across cultures and generations, making haiku a timeless and universal form of artistic expression.

FAQs about Haiku

1. Who made haiku famous?

Matsuo Bashō is widely credited with making haiku famous. Bashō, a Japanese poet who lived in the 17th century, elevated haiku from a simple verse form to a respected art form. His profound observations of nature and mastery of the haiku form helped popularize haiku poetry in Japan and beyond. Bashō’s works, such as “The Narrow Road to the Interior” (Oku no Hosomichi), continue to inspire poets and readers around the world.

2. What is a fun fact about haiku poetry?

One fun fact about haiku poetry is that it often includes a seasonal word (kigo) to indicate the time of year in which the poem is set. These seasonal words, such as “cherry blossoms” for spring or “snow” for winter, add depth and richness to haiku by evoking the sights, sounds, and sensations of a particular season. Including a kigo is not just a poetic convention but also a way to connect haiku to the natural world and the changing seasons.

3. What is haiku in 21st century literature?

In the 21st century, haiku continues to thrive as a poetic form, both in its traditional Japanese context and in global literature. While traditional haiku often focuses on nature and the seasons, contemporary haiku poets explore a wide range of themes and subjects, reflecting modern life, technology, and social issues. Haiku in 21st century literature embraces experimentation and innovation while honoring the core principles of brevity, simplicity, and depth. It remains a versatile and widely appreciated form of poetry in today’s literary landscape.

4. What was the first English haiku?

The first English haiku is often attributed to the poet Ezra Pound, who experimented with the form in the early 20th century. Pound’s haiku, “In a Station of the Metro,” was published in 1913:

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”

While not strictly adhering to the traditional syllable pattern of 5-7-5, Pound’s haiku captures a vivid moment with brevity and clarity, reflecting the essence of haiku in English literature.

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