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10 Haikus That Paint a Beautiful Picture

Haiku is one of the most recognizable forms of poetry in the world, known and beloved for its simple elegance. Originating from the Japanese “hokku,” an opening stanza of a longer work, the standalone haiku emerged in Japanese literature around the 17th century, and went on to become popular around the world.

Traditionally, haikus are very structured, made up of only three unrhymed lines; the first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five, totaling 17 syllables. But although the syllable count has been ingrained in Western teachings as a strict hallmark of the haiku, it isn’t a required trait.

In fact, many famous Japanese haikus, including poems from celebrated writers Matsuo Bashō and Yosa Buson, lose their syllabic structure in some English translations. As writers outside of Japan started using the form, it became less about the rhythm, and more about honoring the haiku’s vivid simplicity. “Above all,” Jack Kerouac reflected, “a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.”

Haiku often evokes nature, and will traditionally include what’s referred to as a "cutting word," or a word used for emphasis and to create stark contrast. Whether in conventional form or using experimental techniques — such as in Ezra Pound’s groundbreaking 1911 imagist work “In a Station of the Metro” — the best and most beautiful haikus capture a moment, convey an astute awareness, and, in just a few short lines, can take your breath away.

An ancient pond!With a sound from the water
Of the frog as it plunges in.
Matsuo Bashō, “The Old Pond”

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After killinga spider, how lonely I feel
in the cold of night!
Masaoka Shiki, “After Killing a Spider”

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A world of dew,And within every dewdrop
A world of struggle.
Kobayashi Issa, “A World of Dew”

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In pale moonlightthe wisteria's scent
comes from far away.
Yosa Buson, “In the Moonlight”

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I write, erase, rewriteErase again, and then
A poppy blooms.
Katsushika Hokusai, “A Poppy Blooms”

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Over the wintryForest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.
Natsume Sōseki, “Over the Wintry”

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The west wind whispered,And touched the eyelids of spring:
Her eyes, Primroses.
R.M. Hansard, “The West Wind Whispered”

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I turn westward inshadows hoping my river
secrets unlock
Sonia Sanchez, “Haiku”

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The sound of silenceis all the instruction
You’ll get
Jack Kerouac, “Haiku”

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The apparition of these faces in the crowd;Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”

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Photo credit: Malcolm Fairman/ Alamy Stock Photo

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About the Author
Nicole Villeneuve
Nicole is a writer, thrift store lover, and group-chat meme spammer based in Ontario, Canada.
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