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Haiku Poetry and the Concept of Wabi/Sabi

by Edward A. Weiss
It may sound like a tasty sushi dish, but the concept of wabi/sabi is a Japanese idea that literally means "sweet sadness." It's a feeling one may have when winter is approaching and you notice the change in nature's cycles. It's a feeling of impermanence that surrounds all living things on this planet. Nothing lasts and this idea finds its expression well in haiku poetry. For instance, look at this haiku poem by Bruce Ross;

winter sun...
the pigeons foot crackles
a dry leaf

The first line suggests the time of year and the general ambiance of the day. It is wintertime and as we all know, the sun's position and relative affect on the earth is quite different during this season. Lines two and three complete the poem and focus, quite remarkably I might add, on the activity of a pigeon. Here, the pigeon happens to walk on a dry leaf and the leaf crackles because of it.

Now, lines 2 and 3 really have no poetic effect by themselves. But, when combined with the sentence fragment "winter sun," we get what many have called an absolute metaphor.. a snapshot if you will of a moment in time. And it is precisely this moment in time that creates the wabi/sabi affect!

Nothing lasts. Not the winter, not the sun's position, and surely, not an incident so small as the crackling of a dry leaf. Yet these seemingly small events are what life is about. To catch them is the haiku poet's job and it is done superbly in this poem. When we read this haiku as a whole, we come away with that sweet sadness that most of us have felt at one time or another. We realize that this life is only temporary and that each "small" act is a miracle in itself.

Edward Weiss is a poet, author, and publisher of Wisteria Press. He has been helping students learn how to write haiku for many years and has just released his first book "Seashore Haiku!" Visit us now at and get the FREE report: "How to Write Haiku!"

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