How to Write a Haiku Poem

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Haiku are a type of traditional Japanese poetry. Only three lines long, haiku are fun to write and share. Let's find out what a haiku poem is and what we need to write our own!

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Definition: What Is a Traditional Haiku Poem?

Haiku originated in Japan and as a poetic form, they are arranged in three lines, each line with a specific number of syllables. Here are the elements you need for a traditional haiku:

  1. Three lines that don't rhyme, with seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern. Five syllables in the first and third line, and seven syllables in the second line.
  2. Each haiku “must contain a kigo. A word that indicates the season in which the poem is set,” according to the World Book Encyclopedia, page eight, volume nine, between the words Douglas Haig and Hail, and according to Japanese Haiku tradition. The word that indicates season can be obvious, like “ice” to indicate winter. Or it can be more subtle, like using the expression “fragrant blossom” to indicate spring.
  3. The words and expressions in the poem are usually simple and deal with everyday situations, usually capturing a moment in time, often in nature.
  4. Usually, the haiku form does not contain metaphors and similes.

Subject matter: Haikus Are About a Single Moment

“Haiku explores a single moment's precise perception and resinous depths.”
— Jane Hirshfield, The Heart of Haiku

Matsuo Bashō, a popular Japanese poet, composed this poem in the late 1600's.

furuike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

In English:

old pond:
frog leaps in
the sound of water

The English version doesn't follow the syllabic pattern due to translation differences, but you can see all the other elements of haiku in play. It's arranged in three lines with the traditional number of syllables in each. Its subject matter is the small splash a frog makes leaping into an old pond.

Why focus on a single moment?

Good question. Haiku invite us to slow down as readers and experience a single moment, to pay attention. And isn't that part of what fuels great writing?

How to Write a Haiku Poem

Let's turn again to Japanese poet Bashō to show us how to write a haiku poem.

Jane Hirshfield explains in her book, The Heart of Haiku, how Bashō encourages us to see for ourselves and hear for ourselves, and if we enter deeply enough this seeing and hearing, all things will speak with and through us.

“To learn about the pine tree go to the pine tree; to learn from the bamboo, study bamboo.”
— Matsu Bashō, Jane Hirshfield, The Heart of Haiku

Using the four guidelines mentioned above, think of an everyday situation, feeling, or a precious moment, such as a blade of grass, a sink full of dirty dishes in the spring, a warm cat, or the sound of snow falling.

If your haiku poem is about something that has happened in your past, if you are remembering a snowfall from last winter, then sit in a quiet spot and go to the memory in your mind.

Use all of your senses. Think of what you heard, felt, tasted, smelled and saw. Let us live the moment with you through distinct images.

If your haiku is about a blade of grass, as Bashō said, go to the grass. Yes, that's right. Go outside right now and lay down in the grass and let the single blade of grass speak through you. Study the grass.

If you are writing about a warm cat, go to the cat and study the cat. Study the sink full of dirty dishes while you wash them. To learn about snow go to the snow.

Ready to Write Your Haiku?

Now that you've tried to immerse yourself in an experience to use for your inspiration, pick out some words that describe the sensations you felt. Remember to choose precise words that capture the moment. Arrange them into three lines and count out those syllables for each.

If you are not sure how many syllables are in a word, you can check out your word on Mirriam-Webster, an on-line dictionary.

You might find that the practice of writing haiku is meditative and a little addicting. It's great practice for using language to show but not tell. The art of haiku is a perfect way to practice creating strong images that will benefit your other forms of writing as well.

I hope you'll give it a try today!

Do you have a favorite haiku? Have any tricks you use to write them? Share in the comments. 

PRACTICE

Practice staring at a blade of grass for fifteen minutes. No, I have a better idea. Come and help me wash my dishes. We can both write about washing dishes.

Okay, seriously now. Please write your thoughts down about something you see in your everyday world or focus on nature, and then try to fit it to the five-seven-five pattern.

Write a haiku poem and share it with us in the practice box below. Then comment on someone else's work. I hope you enjoy this old form in new ways!

Enter your practice here:

Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at pamelahodges.com.

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61 Comments

  1. concordriverlady

    Am I missing something or does the sample not follow the syllable rule?

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Concordriverlady,

      The Japanese language does not have syllables like English does. So their words don’t translate into our English syllables.
      The center line, “kaqaza tobikama” has seven sounds, seven individual sounds – ka-ga-za – to-bi-ka-ma. But, when you translate it into english, you don’t get seven syllables.
      Thank you for pointing out the syllable variable in the example.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
  2. Jeanne Lombardo

    For those serious about a study of haiku, Harold G. Henderson’s An Introduction to Haiku (1958) is perhaps the definitive little tome. For each haiku, he gives you the lines in Romaji (phonetically spelling out the words as they sound in Japanese but using the alphabet) and English translations. It is fascinating to see how Japanese syntax and thus the emphasis they place on the elements of the poem are different from English. Pamela, your transcription of Basho’s haiku in Japanese does not reflect the correct translation of the individual words in English. Henderson’s rendering of the poem is as follows: Furuike ya / kawazu tobi-komu/ mizu-no-oto…This is the standard translation and conforms perfectly to the form here.
    Thanks for your post!

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Thank you Jeanne,
      I corrected the spelling of the Haiku by Matsuo Bashō. Thank you for pointing it out.
      The book you suggested sounds great. I will have to check it out. There is so much more to this art form I would love to learn.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
  3. Sheila B

    the syllable count in the 5-7-5 format is old and distorted information and not a true rule. Haiku experts around the world debunk this all the time- see
    http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/why-no-5-7-5 great description of the art form!
    But the syllable rule was taught that way in USA schools for decades so it has deep hold as fact, but its really innacurate. There are many various forms of haiku but all with similar components, and though it can be fun and informative to writing discipline to limit ones writing to a a certain # of syllables or characters (as in Tweets), it is not an imperative of haiku at all. The more important elements are the seasons, the objects of the senses, the perceptions of a moment in time, all in few words and lines, and what i think is the most difficult aspect, and the kicker as I like to call it or kirejji/ “cutting” word that cuts the poem, turns it subtly to a previously unseen or unexpected perspective.

    Reply
    • Jeanne Lombardo

      Great link Sheila. You are so right that the focus should not be on the strict syllabic count but the elements referenced in the linked post. Though I personally like the challenge of that stricture 🙂

      Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Sheila B,
      Thank you for the link to the article about the 5-7-5 rule. There is so much to learn about this art form. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about haiku.
      I want to learn more about haiku, especially the element of the cutting word.
      All my best,
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
  4. Jay Warner

    The tree wears white lace
    Each branch and twig atwinkle
    First frost in new morn

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Jay,
      Thank you for writing a haiku. 🙂
      The frost and the white lace are very vivid images.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • Jay Warner

        thanks Pamela, I took your advice and went outside. The frost on the tree was very striking to me.

        Reply
      • Jay Warner

        thank you, Katherine.

        Reply
  5. Katherine Rebekah

    Sunset reflects light
    Off the fresh fallen snow drifts
    Sinks and all is black

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Katherine Rebekah,
      Your first two lines created a strong feeling of light, reflection, fresh fallen,
      and then the word fallen lead to sinking and black.
      A strong powerful contrast.
      Thank you sharing your writing.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • Katherine Rebekah

        I’m glad you liked it. Always happy to share. 🙂

        Reply
  6. Zuop

    My first time commenting here! This was a great prompt for me as I am trying to write a poem every day so it fit into my established routine, besides I love haiku even though I don’t have much practice with them!

    Here goes,

    Such a lot of noise
    Galahs tumbling through open air
    Before midday heat

    That one is outside my window this morning.
    This one reuses the first line,

    Such a lot of noise
    So much fuss about what she’s done
    Chicken has laid an egg

    Thanks so much for a great prompt and article! 🙂

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Zuop,
      Thank you for sharing your writing, and for being brave to make your first comment.
      How is your daily poetry writing habit going?
      Your poetry created strong feelings of nature, (and a noisy chicken.)
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • Zuop

        Hey Pamela, thanks! I am very inspired by nature because I live in a rural area.
        Yes it’s going pretty well so far, it’s good to get in a habit of writing something every day 🙂
        I really enjoyed your article too, love your writing style 🙂

        Reply
  7. felicia_d

    As colored leaves fall
    Blending with gentle breezes
    Harmonies of life

    Reply
    • LilianGardner

      I like this, felicia_d. I wanted to write about autumn leaves but wrote about my cat instead.

      Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello felica_d
      Your leaves felt like they were really falling, as though I was there, feeling the gentle breeze. It brought back memories of being beneath a giant Maple tree in the fall in Minnesota.
      Thank you,
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • felicia_d

        Thanks, Pamela!

        Reply
  8. Masterman

    Seed
    awaits
    heaven’s breath
    immanent
    I am

    Wrote this ignorant of Haiku structure so not following the 3 line structure or syllabic rules more 1, 2, 3, 3, 2

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Masterman,
      Your poem has a pattern that is very gentle, thank you for showing the structure you used.
      The seed felt very real.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
  9. Winnie

    My foot squinched a bug
    Flat, wet, two-dimensional.
    Candle drew it in.

    Reply
    • LilianGardner

      Very expressive, Winnie. I can feel the bug underfoot.

      Reply
    • Louise Rita

      Really like your haiku. But I believe the first line has 6 syllables–that is, if squinched has 2

      Reply
      • Winnie

        My squinched has only one. I imagine Shakespeare would have made it two.

        Reply
        • Louise Rita

          pretty good 🙂

          Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Winniw,
      Oh dear, the thought of stepping on a bug, really made the poem feel real.
      The words, flat and wet.
      The candle drew me in too.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
  10. LilianGardner

    This is quite new to me and I don’t know if I’ve got it right. You be the judge.

    My cat purrs softly
    Curled on the Persian rug
    Winter’s at the door.

    Reply
    • Louise Rita

      Sure seems to have the right number of syllables. Your haiku evokes a really sweet image.

      Reply
      • LilianGardner

        Thanks, Louise.

        Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Lillian,
      Thank you for trying a new form of writing.
      Your haiku is hi-cool.
      The words create such a warm atmosphere.
      softly
      curled
      and the last sentence is such a contrast. It words very well.
      And the cat is on a Persian rug, not a tile floor, it make the room feel warmer.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • LilianGardner

        Hello Pam,
        You are sensitive and observant to note the difference from a Persian rug and tile floor. Actually, your words did the trick! You asked us to connect physically with something to create the verse and I did just that.
        Please hug Harper for me and for Minnie, too.
        Lilian

        Reply
    • Haylee

      I love this!

      Reply
      • LilianGardner

        Thanks, Haylee. 🙂

        Reply
  11. David

    crisp fog stains twilight
    breath afloat on morning air
    promise for new day

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      oh david,
      i won’t capitalize anything here too
      or use punctuation
      the words took on the shape of the fog without capital letters
      these words really created the mood
      crisp
      stains
      breath afloat
      and promise helped me get out of the fog
      it is sort of like the fog would be real in the air
      but also the fog of depression
      that is how it spoke to me
      xo
      pamela

      Reply
  12. Crystal Johnson

    Darkness falls
    Light awaits
    Ocean of people living in routine

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Crystal Johnson,
      Oh my, an ocean of people living in routine. I felt the monotony of people living in routine, day after day. Dark then light, dark then light.
      Makes me want to climb out of the ocean.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • crystal johnson

        That was awesome, I need to practice more. I feel the wrong element of people in my life and I need to let go of, but it seems that element won’t let go of me.

        Reply
  13. Stacey Potter

    Leaves scatter around
    Sky full of brittle gold birds
    The cold cuts my face

    Reply
    • Louise Rita

      Really like ‘The cold cuts my face’

      Reply
      • Pamela Hodges

        Me too Louise Rita,
        The cold cuts my face, is such a strong image.
        And “brittle” gold birds, with the word cuts, makes me think the birds might break apart in the cold.
        Very strong images. I felt cold after I read it.
        xo
        Pamela

        Reply
  14. Louise Rita

    Outline so simple 5
    Evokes painful memories 7
    Makes it hard to write 5

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Louise Rita,
      Oh dear, I am sorry about the painful memories. I felt them too. In your three lines, you expressed your pain. Perhaps it was the word, “evokes.:
      And in the hard writing you still wrote.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • StPaulMike

        Yes. I live in the macalester Groveland area of St. Paul.

        Reply
  15. StPaulMike

    I posted this yesterday on my Facebook page (Mike Schoenberg). Please visit:for more haiku.

    Gutter full rainfall,
    autumn monsoon thunderstorm
    in the dark of night.

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello St.Paul Mike,
      Does this mean you live in St. Paul, Minnesota? We use to live there, on the East Side, close to Payne Avenue,
      Gutter full, expresses heavy rain so well.
      A small glimpse of a storm moment.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • StPaulMike

        I live in the Macalester – Groveland area. Thanks for the comment.

        Reply
  16. Vanessa

    Laying on the ground
    Sun shining on snow and ice
    I feel the murmer

    Reply
    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Vanessa,
      Laying on the ground, you became one with the snow and ice. You felt the murmer, and I did too.
      xo
      Pamela

      Reply
      • Vanessa

        Thanks! It’s been fun, I am going through back injections so spending a lot of time on the ground, but I seem to be coming up with Haiku’s through the day and all inspired by you 🙂 I did not spend much time on my Haiku it was just a fun exercise, but I like it better written
        On the ground laying
        Snow and Ice the sun shining
        I feel the murmur…..Thanks again for the prompt!

        Reply
  17. Pamela Hodges

    Hello LaCresha Lawson,
    Please share your son’s work. It would be a pleasure to read their writing.
    xo
    Pamela

    Reply
    • LaCresha Lawson

      I sure will. Thank you.☺

      Reply
      • LaCresha Lawson

        November 15, 2015

        Luke Ramirez, 13

        My son’s Haiku Poem

        For the Write Practice

        LaCresha Lawson

        Sitting on my bed

        Wondering when I got it,

        remembering now.

        Reply
  18. Haylee

    Writing Haiku past
    midnight is an exercise
    in futility

    Reply
  19. Lauren Timmins

    Window veiled in frost
    Inside they smile and fire burns
    Yet I am outside

    Reply
    • LilianGardner

      Laura, this is fabulous. What a vivid picture your words evoke.

      Reply
  20. Christine

    Hi Pamela,
    I’m very late with my comment on this post. Nanowrimo has turned my schedule upside down. 🙂

    Actually there often is a metaphor in haiku, but it tends to be understood by the original writers because they used words with a double meaning, such as “scarecrow” which tended to stand for “old man” or “old age.” Consider that as you read this verse:
    scarecrows are the first
    heroes to fall in the rush
    of the autumn wind

    Kyoroku

    Chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms likewise say something to the Japanese that they don’t say to us, giving a verse like this meaning we wouldn’t as soon catch:
    even stones in streams
    of mountain water compose
    songs to wild cherries

    Onitsuba

    I see there’s often a hidden implication in the verse. For example
    you fleas seem to find
    the night as long as I do
    are you lonely, too

    Issa
    One can picture both the poet’s loneliness (his wife died young); that loneliness, as well as the fleas, tormented him all night.

    I’ve tried my hand at haiku as well. Here’s one of my best liked verses:
    roadside sunflowers
    faces turned from the rude wind
    looking for summer

    And my scarecrow one, complaining about my own achy old age: 🙂
    this sorry scarecrow
    grown stiff in autumn’s frosts
    sighs for the tasseling corn

    Reply

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