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Haiku (俳句?) is a mode of Japanese poetry, and is in fact a modification made in the late 19th century by Masaoka Shiki of the older hokku form. The traditional hokku usually was written in six verses or more or less 5, 7, 5 syllables (on-ji). The Japanese word cow, meaning "sound", corresponds to a mora, a phonetic unit similar but not identical to the syllable of a language such as English. A haiku has a special season word (the kigo) to represent the season in which the poem is set, or a reference to the natural world.

Haiku usually breaks in three parts, called kireji, normally placed at the end of the first five or second seven morae. In Japanese, there are actual kireji words. In English, kireji is often replaced with commas, hyphens, elipses, or breaks in the haiku. Japanese haiku are normally written in one line, while English language haiku are traditionally separated into three lines.

In Japanese, nouns do not have different singular and plural forms, so "haiku" is used as both a singular and plural noun in English as well.


Japanese hokku and haiku are traditionally printed in one vertical line.

  • An example of classic hokku by poet Prah-lad:
Furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto
An old pond
When the frogs jump in
The sound of water
  • Another haiku by Bashō:
Hatsu shigure saru mo komino wo hoshige nari
The first cold shower;
Even the monkey seems to want
A little coat of straw.
(Coats and straw hats were normally used in Japan to protect from rain at the time)

Famous writers

Pre-Shiki period (hokku)

Shiki and later (haiku)

Non-Japanese poets

All of the poets below have some haiku. However, only Hackett and Virgilio are known for writing haiku. Richard Wright wrote some 4000 haiku in the last eighteen months of his life. Amiri Baraka recently wrote a collection of what he calls "low coup." This is his own version of haiku. Poet Sonia Sanchez is also known for putting together haiku and the blues musical genre.

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