Haiku is one of the most famous forms of poetry. Haiku poetry has it's origins from hokku, which is the opening stanza of a linked poem. In the 19th century, Masaoka Shiki named the opening stanza "haiku" when it is used as a stand-alone poem.
Haiku is an often talked about but often misrepresented form of poetry. The common belief is that haiku is written in syllables but in fact, this isn't exactly right. The form holds its origins in Japanese, which doesn't use syllables. The Japanese use what is known as "on", which is closely related to the English morae.
The common belief is that haiku is written in 5, 7, 5 syllables. Meaning, the first line includes 5 syllables, the second 7 and the third 5 syllables. However, this isn't exactly true. The Japanese form of haiku indeed includes 5, 7, 5. However, it is on and not syllables.
You might be wondering what difference this makes. Actually, it makes a world of change. A haiku is meant to be read with one breath. It is meant to be short, sweet, and yet still hold a gallon of meaning. When using syllables, it stretches the poem length immensely. No longer is the poem said in one breath, but in two or three.
Even though many current day English haiku writers don't use morae, they still use the 'one breath method.' So if you don't feel like learning the complexity of morae, don't worry! Just write it short, sweet, and make sure it has a gallon of meaning.
Gary R. Hess is the author of Haiku Poems. Be sure to check out his article on famous haiku poetry.
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