Poetry Basics: Haiku

These are teaching materials (also available in a PDF file) related to teaching haiku. The notes include a description of haiku, 27 examples of haiku written by students and activities involving analysis, writing and peer review. Haiku is a good form of poetry to teach to students as it is relatively simple and it can really help learners understand how concrete imagery can be used in poetry to evoke mood and emotion. It is a kind of poetry that non-native speakers can handle very well. The materials can be shared and photocopied for non-commercial purposes.

Download (pdf file): https://longzijun.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/poetry_haiku2.pdf (right click, save link as)

An old pond
A frog jumps in
The sound of water

The haiku at left is a classic Japanese haiku by Matsuo Basho (the original Japanese poem follows the standard format of line lengths). The English translation above is by Yumi Taga (who also did the calligraphy at left). Haiku is a traditional Japanese form of short poetry. It is written in three lines with the following pattern of syllables:
Line 1: Five Syllables
Line 2: Seven Syllables
Line 3: Five Syllables

Haiku written in English (or English translations of Japanese Haiku), often do not strictly follow this syllable structure, though they usually keep to the idea if having three short lines. An example of an English haiku with the traditional structure is shown below:

The falling leaves have
laid out a yellow blanket
The trees are undressed
       ~by Ng Hiu-lui

When writing haiku, the poet tries to evoke an emotional response by capturing a single moment in the natural world. The description is usually visual, but make use of the five senses. The poet usually does not mention abstract thoughts (e.g., she is happy) or general observations (e.g., it is cold). Instead, the focus is on concrete images (e.g., She now smiles warmly. Snow crunches beneath my feet.)

Evoke (vb.): to call up or produce (the smell of chalk evoked strong memories of his school days)
Concrete (adj.): describing something that can be touched, seen, felt, smelled, tasted or heard
Abstract (adj.): the opposite of concrete (e.g., Love is abstract; a hug is concrete)

The scene is often frozen in time by describing two concrete images (with one line describing one of the images and two lines describing the other. In Basho’s haiku about the frog, for example, the pond and the jumping frog are the two images. The poem captures the moment in time when the frog jumps into the pond and creates a splash.
Japanese haiku are often seasonal in nature, but the seasons are implied rather than being explicitly stated. For example, the falling leaves in Ng Hiu-lui’s poem represent autumn.
When writing haiku, the poet tries to turn the physical world into the energy of emotion and thought: not an easy thing to do within seventeen syllables.


Student Writing: Haiku

The following haiku were written by students taking the course Creative Writing (LS10185) at City University of Hong Kong.

A firedrake brushes
past the subway of darkness
The lights of souls growl
       ~by Nora Chung

The Locker
Oh, the great slam shut
The fearful beasts devouring
my heaven and earth
       ~by Nora Chung

Modern Life
Black dust is dancing
Killing cars crash together
with nobody there
       ~by Kama Tsoi

Mom’s Tummy
The bulging tummy
where I used to sleep is now
a dumpling of flab
       ~by Laura Lam

Stopped Clock
To punish my leg
for kicking my arm once an hour:
Running Forbidden
       ~by Laura Lam

The falling leaves have
laid out a yellow blanket
The trees are undressed
       ~by Ng Hiu-lui

Sunny Afternoon
A rustle of leaves
The sunlight comes through branches
and shines on my book
       ~by Joan Tang

On the Way to Nan Shan Chun
Wine-dark berries dropped
Steps paint the crowded pavement
into greasy night soil
       ~by Chor Yiu-ching

ICQ installed
Simply click on icons with
humanware plugins
       ~by Chor Yiu-ching

Siren howls at night
rushing to the hospital
A new life is born
       ~by Vivian Chiang

As the air-con drips
sweat sleeping on my body
kisses me goodbye
       ~by Peggy On

Cold wind blowing
He put on a thick jacket
and chafed his hands
       ~by Clara Cheuk

Roasted Chestnuts
Fresh hot snacks are sold
the smell of roasted chestnuts
summons my lonely heart
       ~by Lee Sze-nga

The pouring raindrops
falling from the sky all around
are tears on my face
       ~Polly Lam

Life and death (ver 1.02)
A chrysathemum
blooming, a small moth lies still
beside the flower
       ~by Kit Fai Chow

One dazzling star falls
Thousands of wishes rising
in the silent sky
       ~by Kevin Ling

Lips touching my lips
Is this a kiss or a beat?
The heart you can’t seek
       ~by Kevin Ling

Snow and Snowmen
Snowflakes drifting down
softly onto two snowmen
wearing the same smile
       ~by Jess Yim Ka-mei

Upon the River
Dragonflies skimming
over the flowing river
praise their slim shadows
       ~by Lam Kit-ming

On the Way Home
Sitting on the bus
I am waiting for no one
to sit beside me
       ~by Chor Yiu-ching

On the Mountaintop
On the mountaintop
I saw a stone still wait for
her conscript husband
       ~by Connie Lau Wai-ming

Under the quick knife
The living hen is bleeding
on the chopping block
       ~by Mak Ho-yin

End of a Century
Calendar gets thin
Red rose with a long green stem
weeps off her petals
       ~by Kitty Chong Ngar-wei

A Letter
A love letter drops
in the compressed, rotten box
Ugly words tremble
       ~by Lydia Lee Ying-i

Lonely Night
Open the windows
faint sound of wavering leaves
I’m sleeping alone
       ~by Carol Ngan Lai-ha

The Snail I
Heavily he creeps
Onto the Golden Mountain.
The snail tastes the breeze.
       ~by Lesley Chow

The Snail II
The cochleate backpack
sinks on his tiny body.
Bulky weighty steps.
       ~by Lesley Chow

The Snail III
Pale are the feelers.
Shivering is the body.
Yet strong is the will.
       ~by Lesley Chow

The world dances, we
do or dream the difference
between light and dark
       ~by Pong Ka-ming



1. Choose a haiku that you like the best and write a short reflection explaining:

a) Why you like it,

b) The feeling or emotion the poem evokes and the way in which the writer creates that feeling (i.e., what images or words do the most to create that feeling?),

c) How closely the haiku follows the traditional structure of a haiku (e.g., number of syllables, use of concrete images, use seasonal imagery, use of two images),

d) If you can identify any deeper meanings in the poem.

After writing the reflection share your comments with a partner.


2. Write down an image that can be associated with each of the seasons:

Spring: _______________________________________________

Summer: _____________________________________________

Fall: _________________________________________________

Winter: ______________________________________________

3. Write your own haiku.

4. Exchange your haiku with a partner and write a critique of his/her work. Your partner should write the comments below, and you should write your comments on your partner’s page. You can include comments about:

a. Overall: Did you enjoy this poem? Do you find it meaningful? Does it make you think and/or did it stir up any emotions? Is the idea original? What do you like best about this poem?

b. Structure and Imagery: Does the poem follow the appropriate structure? That is, does it follow the 5-7-5 pattern of syllables? Does is have two images? Is the poem set in a specific season? Are the images descriptive and original? Do they suit the idea being described?

c. Suggestions : In what ways can the poem be improved?

5. Based on the comments made by your partner, rewrite your haiku. You do not have to follow the advice given by your partner (maybe, for example, you don’t want to set your poem in a specific season), but you should consider his/her comments.


Download (pdf file): longzijun.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/poetry_haiku2.pdf (right click, save link as)

~by (longzijun)


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