Are the Poems Written by Borges Haiku?

by Amy
Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is a towering figure in 20th-century literature, renowned for his short stories, essays, and poems that explore complex themes of time, infinity, and reality. While Borges’s works span a variety of forms and styles, his engagement with different poetic traditions is particularly notable. Among these, the haiku—a traditional Japanese poetic form—is one that Borges explored and adapted in his unique way. This article examines whether the poems written by Borges can be considered haiku, exploring the characteristics of haiku, Borges’s approach to poetry, and specific examples of his work.

See also: How To Write A Haiku About Yourself?

Understanding Haiku: Form and Essence

Traditional Haiku

A traditional haiku is a short Japanese poem consisting of three lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. It typically focuses on nature, seasons, and fleeting moments, aiming to capture a brief, poignant experience or observation. Key elements of haiku include:

Kigo: A seasonal word that indicates the time of year.
Kireji: A cutting word that provides a pause or emotional punctuation.
Simplicity and Brevity: Haiku are concise and direct, often evoking a deep response through minimal language.

Example of a traditional haiku by Matsuo Basho:
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.

This haiku captures a simple yet profound moment in nature, illustrating the form’s emphasis on brevity and depth.

Borges’s Engagement with Haiku

Borges, a literary polymath, had a deep appreciation for various literary traditions, including Japanese haiku. His engagement with haiku reflects both a respect for its traditional form and an innovative approach to adapting it to his own style and themes. Borges’s haiku-like poems often diverge from the strict syllable count and thematic constraints of traditional haiku, raising the question of whether they can still be considered true haiku.

Borges’s Poetic Style and Themes

Borges’s poetry is characterized by themes of time, infinity, mirrors, labyrinths, and the nature of reality. His style often blends philosophical inquiry with lyrical expression, creating poems that are both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant. Borges’s approach to haiku reflects these broader themes, as he uses the form to explore moments of insight and revelation.

Analysis of Borges’s Haiku-Like Poems

Poem 1: “Haiku”

Borges wrote a poem explicitly titled “Haiku,” which reflects his interpretation of the form:

Old hands
drawing slowly.
April moon.

This poem captures the brevity and simplicity of traditional haiku while diverging from the strict 5-7-5 syllable pattern. It uses imagery (old hands, April moon) to evoke a moment of contemplation and change, aligning with the haiku’s focus on nature and the passage of time.

Poem 2: “Autumn”

Another example often cited in discussions of Borges’s haiku is:

The fallen leaves,
The bare tree
Are the same thing.

This poem again reflects the haiku’s brevity and emphasis on nature. The imagery of fallen leaves and a bare tree suggests themes of change and impermanence, central to both haiku and Borges’s broader literary concerns.

Borges’s Adaptation of Haiku

Borges’s haiku-like poems often maintain the spirit of traditional haiku while adapting its form and themes to fit his unique style. This adaptation can be seen in several ways:

Flexibility in Syllable Count: Borges does not strictly adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable structure, instead focusing on the essence and impact of the poem.
Philosophical Themes: While traditional haiku often centers on nature and seasons, Borges’s haiku-like poems incorporate philosophical and metaphysical themes, reflecting his broader literary interests.
Cultural Integration: Borges integrates the haiku form into his own cultural and literary context, creating a hybrid form that bridges Japanese and Western poetic traditions.

Comparing Borges’s Haiku to Traditional Haiku

To understand whether Borges’s poems can be considered haiku, it is useful to compare them to traditional haiku in terms of form, content, and impact.


Traditional haiku follows a strict 5-7-5 syllable pattern, while Borges’s haiku-like poems are more flexible. This divergence raises questions about the definition of haiku and whether strict adherence to form is essential to its identity.


Traditional haiku often focuses on nature and seasonal changes, capturing a moment in time. Borges’s poems, while sometimes reflecting these themes, also delve into philosophical and abstract subjects. This expansion of content challenges the boundaries of haiku and reflects Borges’s innovative approach.


Both traditional haiku and Borges’s haiku-like poems aim to evoke a deep emotional or intellectual response. Despite differences in form and content, Borges’s poems achieve a similar impact, suggesting a continuity in the essence of haiku.

Borges’s Influence on Contemporary Haiku

Borges’s adaptation of haiku has influenced contemporary poets who seek to blend traditional forms with modern themes. His approach demonstrates the flexibility and enduring relevance of haiku, encouraging poets to experiment with the form while maintaining its spirit.

The Debate: Are Borges’s Poems Haiku?

The question of whether Borges’s poems can be considered haiku ultimately depends on one’s definition of the form. If haiku is defined strictly by its traditional characteristics—syllable count, seasonal reference, and simplicity—then Borges’s poems may not qualify. However, if haiku is seen as a more flexible form that can evolve and adapt to different cultural and literary contexts, Borges’s haiku-like poems can certainly be considered part of this tradition.

Conclusion: Borges and the Haiku Tradition

Jorge Luis Borges’s engagement with haiku reflects his broader literary approach: an exploration of different traditions, forms, and themes, adapted to his unique voice. While Borges’s haiku-like poems may diverge from traditional haiku in form and content, they capture the essence of haiku through their brevity, imagery, and impact. Borges’s innovative approach expands the boundaries of haiku, demonstrating its potential for cross-cultural adaptation and contemporary relevance.

In the end, whether Borges’s poems are considered haiku may be less important than recognizing his contribution to the evolution of this poetic form. By exploring and adapting haiku, Borges enriched the literary landscape, bridging Eastern and Western traditions and inspiring future poets to continue this dialogue.

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