Understanding Haiku: Definition, Format, and Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


  1. What is a Haiku?
  2. Origin and History of Haiku
  3. Format of a Haiku
  4. How to Write a Haiku
  5. Examples of Haiku

Have you ever stumbled upon a short, poignant poem that stirs up vivid images of the natural world in your mind? Chances are, you've probably encountered a haiku. In this blog, we're going to unravel the definition of haiku, its structure, how to write one, and even share some examples with you. So, let's dive into the magical world of haiku, shall we?

What is a Haiku?

We can't go ahead without first understanding what a haiku is. So, let's start there.


At its core, a haiku is a form of Japanese poetry. It's known for its brevity and the ability to evoke rich imagery and profound emotions. The definition of haiku, according to most dictionaries, is 'a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.' But there's more to it than just the dictionary definition.

Features of a Haiku

A haiku is easily recognizable by its structure. Here's what sets it apart:

  • Syllable count: A traditional haiku consists of seventeen syllables, arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively. This rule, however, may vary in different languages.
  • Imagery: Haikus are known for their vivid imagery. They often draw from the natural world to create evocative scenes in the reader's mind.
  • Emotion: Despite their brevity, haikus can convey deep emotions. They often touch on themes of love, loneliness, joy, and the passage of time.

Now that you've got a basic understanding of what a haiku is, you're ready to explore its origins and history. But that's a tale for another section. For now, let's revel in the beauty and simplicity that is the haiku.

Origin and History of Haiku

Having grasped the definition of haiku, let's trace its roots back in time. History has a fascinating story to tell about this unique form of poetry.

Origins in Japan

The haiku, as we know it today, originates from Japan. It evolved from a longer form of poetry called 'tanka' during the 9th century. Initially, it was not a standalone form but the beginning part of a collaborative linked-verse poem.

The Role of Matsuo Basho

The credit for elevating haiku to an independent art form goes to Matsuo Basho, a popular Japanese poet of the 17th century. He began to write haikus as standalone pieces, focusing on capturing the essence of a moment in nature. Basho's works highlight the transient beauty of the world around us, making him a pivotal figure in the history of haiku.

Haiku in the Western World

It wasn't until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the Western world took notice of haiku. Translations of Japanese haikus into English played a significant role in popularizing this form of poetry. Today, it's embraced by poets worldwide, each bringing their unique perspective to this traditional form.

Isn't it remarkable how a simple form of poetry has traveled across continents and centuries to find a place in our hearts today? Next, we'll look closely at the format of a haiku, which plays a key role in its charm. But that exploration is for another section.

Format of a Haiku

Having journeyed through the history of haiku, let's delve into the structure that makes a haiku, well, a haiku. It's like learning the steps of a dance — once you know them, you can weave your own rhythm.

Three-Line Structure

One of the defining features of haiku is its three-line structure. These lines are not just random; they follow a specific pattern that gives haiku its unique rhythm. You could say it's like a sandwich — with each line adding a distinct flavor to the whole.

Syllable Count

Counting syllables is where the real fun begins. In traditional Japanese haiku, the first and third lines each contain 5 syllables, while the second line contains 7. That's a 5-7-5 syllable arrangement. But don't worry if you're not a math whiz — you don't need to be one to write a haiku!

Seasonal Reference

A haiku is a snapshot of a moment, often with a nature or seasonal theme. This element, referred to as 'kigo' in Japanese, adds depth to the poem. It's like adding a splash of color to a black and white photo.

So, there you have it — the format of a haiku. Easy, right? Now that we've got that down, we'll move on to the fun part: writing your own haiku. But let's save that for the next section.

How to Write a Haiku

Alright, now that we've cracked the code on the definition of haiku, are you ready to create your own? It doesn't require a magical touch, just a little imagination and adherence to the specified format. Let's break it down together, shall we?

Think of a Theme

First things first, you need to decide on your theme. Remember, traditional haiku often revolves around nature or seasons. So, why not start by looking outside your window? Maybe the falling leaves of autumn or the first snowflake of winter will inspire you.

Count Your Syllables

Next, you'll want to craft your lines around that 5-7-5 syllable structure we talked about. Here's a tip: don't try to force it. Write naturally first, then adjust the syllables. You'd be surprised how often you'll find you're already close to the count!

Add a Twist

Finally, consider adding an element of surprise or a twist in the third line. This isn't a must, but it can add a dash of intrigue to your poem. Like a plot twist in a good book, it leaves the reader with something to ponder.

And there you have it! The mystery of writing a haiku, solved. Next, let's look at some examples to help you cement your understanding.

Examples of Haiku

Now that we've explored the definition of haiku and talked about how to write one, let's take a look at some examples. Seeing these bite-sized poems in action can really help you grasp their essence. Ready to dive in?

Classic Haiku

When it comes to haiku, few are more renowned than Matsuo Basho, a 17th-century Japanese poet. Here's one of his famous pieces:

An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.

Notice how Basho paints a vivid picture with just a few words, and the twist in the third line? That's the magic of haiku!

Modern Haiku

Haiku isn't just a thing of the past, it's alive and well in the modern world too. Here's a contemporary haiku from poet Sonia Sanchez:

Let me wear the day
Well so when it reaches you
You will enjoy it.

See how Sanchez beautifully expresses a message of hope and positivity in her haiku?

Your Haiku

Now, it's your turn. Remember the steps we've discussed, and see what you can come up with. Don't worry if it's not perfect, the beauty of haiku is in the attempt and expression. Who knows, you might surprise yourself!

So, between the definition of haiku, its structure, and these examples, you're well on your way to becoming a haiku expert. Happy writing!

If you're inspired to dive deeper into the world of poetry after learning about haiku, we recommend checking out the workshop '10 Minute Poetry Challenge: THINK LESS, WRITE MORE!' by Alieu Drammeh. This workshop will challenge your creative thinking and help you write more poetry in just 10 minutes a day. Give it a try and see how it can enhance your understanding and appreciation of haiku and other poetic forms.