To help you connect with your creative side and practise your English at the same time, we thought we’d give you some tips on how to write a haiku, a short poem that’s simple enough to learn, but hard to master.
Writing can be both relaxing and fun, so we hope you enjoy this little exercise. By the end of it, you’ll have a poem or two to show your friends and loved ones. Share your work in the comments!
What is haiku?
Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that uses a few words to describe a captivating moment in a beautiful way. The origins of this poetry can be traced back to the 9th century.
Haikus are always short and simple – they’re meant to be read in one breath. Traditionally, they only have three lines. The first and third lines have 5 syllables and the second line has 7. Also note that haikus do not have to rhyme, and you are free to repeat words if you like.
Once you feel confident writing traditional haikus, you can try changing the traditional 5-7-5-syllable structure and using some artistic inspiration to create a more free form of your own.
Steps to writing your first haiku
1. Read examples of traditional haiku
Before writing your own haiku, look up a few examples written by traditional Japanese haiku writers. The English translations of some of their most artistic poems are easy to find online.
One of the greatest masters of haiku was Matsuo Basho, a Japanese poet who lived in the 17th century. He is credited with elevating haiku into a serious form of poetry. Here are three of his poems translated to English:
Won’t you come and see
loneliness? Just one leaf
from the kiri tree.
Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!
None is travelling
Here along this way but I,
This autumn evening.
Notice the subjects and the style that Basho uses and how it makes you feel. Appreciate the beauty of the sounds and let yourself be inspired. Think about the emotions that you would like to convey with your own poem.
2. Identify your subject
Traditional haiku writers often found their source of inspiration in nature, animals, seasons or times of day. If you like, you can write about these topics, too.
Take a look at your surroundings. Is there anything in the room, an object, a smell, a colour, a shadow that inspires you?
Make a list of all the subjects that interest you, and try choosing just one. You can use memories of recent experiences, photographs, paintings, or anything that makes you feel a certain way. Next, we’ll look at how to put that special feeling into words.
3. Find words to describe your subject
Now you just need to find a few words to describe your subject. Make a list of 10-20 words that sound nice to you, and highlight the ones that you like the most. When you’re done, think about the structure of your poem.
The first two lines of haikus usually serve to describe something beautiful, while the third line adds an unexpected twist. The relationship between the two parts is what gives the poem an element of surprise. Think about a surprising thought that you could attach to your description.
4. Write the first two lines
Now’s the time to write two lines using the words you listed. Don’t pay attention to syllables just yet. Make sure that the lines are short and snappy, and paint a vivid picture of your subject.
Use short words, descriptive adjectives and simple grammatical structures. This will make it easier to transform your poem into a beautiful work of art in the last step.
5. Write the third line
Next, write the third line – but make it something very different from the first two. What will make the reader say: “Wow, that’s not the ending I was expecting!” or “Hmm, I never would’ve thought of that!” Once you’ve written the third line, you’ll have the first draft of your poem ready for polishing.
6. Get the structure right
Finally, go back and see what you can do to get the right number of syllables in each line. Rewrite your poem by shortening or expanding lines, rearranging words and experimenting with different adjectives to arrive at the 5-7-5 structure.
We’ll share some of our favourites with you in the coming weeks.
Looking for inspiration? Try reading! Take our free reading level test to help you find the right Graded Readers for you.