How Old Is A Haiku?

by Amy

Haiku, a concise and evocative form of Japanese poetry, has a rich history that spans several centuries. This article delves into the origins and evolution of haiku, exploring its development from earlier poetic forms and its enduring significance in both Japanese and global literature.

Introduction to Haiku

Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry characterized by its 17-syllable structure, typically arranged in a 5-7-5 pattern. Known for its brevity and depth, haiku captures moments in nature or human experience with clarity and simplicity. It is one of Japan’s most celebrated literary forms and has influenced poets worldwide.

Origins of Haiku

The roots of haiku can be traced back to earlier forms of Japanese poetry, such as tanka and renga:

Tanka: A classical form of Japanese poetry consisting of 31 syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. Tanka was popular in the early literary traditions of Japan.

Renga: A collaborative linked-verse poem, where poets contributed alternating stanzas. The opening stanza of a renga, called hokku, played a crucial role in the development of haiku.

Development of Haiku

Haiku emerged as a distinct poetic form in the 17th century during the Edo period. The transformation of hokku into haiku was significantly influenced by the work of prominent poets:

Matsuo Bashō: Often regarded as the father of haiku, Bashō elevated the hokku to a standalone art form, emphasizing simplicity, natural imagery, and a deep sense of contemplation.

Yosa Buson: A master of visual imagery, Buson contributed to the artistic and aesthetic refinement of haiku.

Kobayashi Issa: Known for his humanistic and compassionate approach, Issa’s haiku often reflected everyday life and the common people’s experiences.

Historical Context

Haiku’s emergence during the Edo period (1603-1868) was influenced by the era’s cultural and philosophical trends. The aesthetics of wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection) and the philosophical principles of Zen Buddhism played significant roles in shaping haiku’s themes and style. The Edo period’s relative peace and stability allowed for the flourishing of arts and literature, providing a fertile ground for the development of haiku.

Evolution and Modern Haiku

Haiku continued to evolve through the Meiji period (1868-1912) and into the modern era:

Meiji Period: The introduction of Western literary influences and the modernization of Japan led to new approaches in haiku writing. Poets like Masaoka Shiki advocated for a return to traditional haiku forms while also encouraging innovation.

Modern Era: Contemporary haiku poets have expanded the form’s boundaries, incorporating diverse themes and experimenting with different structures. Haiku has also gained international popularity, influencing poets around the world.

See also: When Was Haiku Poems?

Significant Milestones

Several key publications and movements have contributed to the development and popularization of haiku:

“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (Oku no Hosomichi): Bashō’s travel journal, which includes many of his famous haiku, is a seminal work in Japanese literature.

Haiku Societies: Organizations like the Haiku Society of America promote the study and appreciation of haiku globally.

Modern Anthologies: Collections of contemporary haiku showcase the form’s ongoing relevance and adaptability.

Global Influence and Contemporary Practice

Haiku’s simplicity and universality have made it a beloved form of poetry worldwide. It is taught in schools, featured in literary journals, and celebrated in international competitions. The global haiku community continues to grow, with poets from diverse cultures contributing to the evolution of the form.


Haiku, with its origins in the 17th century, has evolved from the hokku of collaborative renga to become a revered and influential form of poetry. Its ability to capture profound moments with simplicity and depth has ensured its enduring popularity. As haiku continues to inspire poets around the world, it remains a testament to the power of concise and evocative expression.

FAQs about haiku

1. Who made the first haiku?

The first haiku is attributed to the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), who is considered one of the greatest haiku masters. Bashō elevated the hokku, the opening stanza of collaborative renga poetry, into a standalone form known as haiku. His innovative approach emphasized simplicity, nature imagery, and a moment of insight or enlightenment.

2. What is the older form of haiku?

The older form of haiku evolved from the hokku, which was the opening stanza of collaborative linked-verse poetry called renga. Renga involved poets taking turns composing stanzas, with the hokku setting the tone and theme for the subsequent verses. Over time, poets like Bashō refined and popularized the hokku as a separate and complete poetic form, which eventually became known as haiku.

3. Is haiku the shortest form of poetry in Japan?

Haiku is indeed one of the shortest traditional forms of poetry in Japan, characterized by its brevity and concise structure. A standard haiku consists of three lines with a total of 17 syllables, typically arranged in a 5-7-5 pattern. This compact format allows haiku to capture a moment of insight, evoke emotions, or depict nature vividly with minimal words.

4. Is haiku a Japanese?

Yes, haiku originated in Japan and is deeply rooted in Japanese literary and cultural traditions. Its development can be traced back to the 17th century during the Edo period, where poets like Bashō, Buson, and Issa popularized and refined the form. Haiku continues to be practiced and celebrated in Japan and has also gained international recognition and adaptation in various languages and cultures.

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