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Haiku vs. Senryu: Who Wins the Fight

by Ashraful Musaddeq

We know that haiku is the cutest form of Japanese poetry with an idea recording the essence of a moment - a non-rhymed verse genre with seasonal theme which paints a mental image in the reader's mind. It consists of 17 moras (not syllables, moras are Japanese sound unit), in three phrases or metrical units of 5-7-5 moras respectively. Japanese Master Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) in 1892 named it haiku.

Haiku is written in present tense; it contains a kigo and a kireji. Kigo (seasonal reference) indicates in which season (spring, winter, autumn or summer.) it is set. Kireji (cutting word) divides the haiku into two independent parts, with a certain imaginative distance between the two sections.

Traditionally, haiku are printed in a single vertical line but in English, it usually appears in three lines. To make the cutting in English, either the first or the second line ends normally with a colon, long dash or ellipsis. Modern haiku consists of fewer than 17 syllables and are written in one, two, three and four lines. Haiku does not use metaphor, personification or simile; it stated simply and expresses the essence of a moment. It is left open-ended and does not tell emotions but shows it.

Haiku may be of three types: Nature haiku with kigo, Human haiku (senryu- human nature, physical or psychological; or human artifacts) and Human plus nature haiku (fusion- human world and kigo).

Senryu (river willow) is also a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 or fewer total moras. It tends to be about human nature and is often pessimistic, darkly humorous or satiric. Unlike haiku, senryu do not include a kireji or kigo. In English, it is usually written in three lines of 17 syllables or less. It is named after Edo period haikai poet Senryu Karai (1718-1790) with his collection Haifuyanagidaru.

Now let us find out the similarities and dissimilarities of haiku and senryu:

1.0 Traditionally, both consist of 17 moras (or syllables in English). Both are similar in structure but tone is different.

2.0 Kigo and kireji are mandatory for the haiku but not necessary for the senryu.

3.0 Haiku contains reference of nature on a serious idea. Human nature in a humorous way is expressed in senryu.

4.0 Haiku is written in present tense without metaphor or personification which may not be followed in synryu composition.

In recent days, it is often observed that writers become more interested to reduce the distance between haiku and senryu. As a result, we, the readers, suffer from the taste, as well as, from distinguishing the two. Though modernizing the form or content and avoiding grammar or meter is a kind of development of poetry, but it hampers the beauty and fragrance thereof. Haiku and senryu should left within its original loveliness.

Author is a public servant, as well as a poet of Bangladesh. He used to write poems in English and Bengali.

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