17 March 2009

Forms of Poetic Expression: Haiku

Photo by morbuto @ flickr

"Three unrhymed lines of poetry, which have five, seven, and five syllables respectively, compose the haiku, a form that usually presents seasonal, natural imagery in a minimalistic but meaningful way.

At the same time that Shakespeare was writing his sonnets and plays, the form we call haiku had begun to take root in Japan. Haiku evolved from the initial verse, or hokku, of longer, linked verse called renga na haikai, which was written jointly by poets at social gatherings or on ceremonious occasions.

One poet would start the verse with a few lines, then another would contribute the next few, and so forth. Renga na haikai written during ceremonies might contain thousands of verses contributed by many different poets in turn.

The hokku, often striking in its imagery, consisted of three phrases; eventually, people began to regard this initial verse as a poetic form in its own right, distinct from renga na haikai. By the nineteenth century, the word “haiku” (a hybrid of hokku and haikai) had come into use.

Traditionally and ideally, a haiku presents a pair of contrasting images, one suggestive of time and place, the other a vivid but fleeting observation. Working together, they evoke mood and emotion. The poet does not comment on the connection but leaves the synthesis of the two images for the reader to perceive. -- Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature."
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