If you went to primary school in the UK (not sure how it works in other countries), chances are you spent multiple lessons here and there writing Japanese Haiku poems. Yes they were fairly fun to create – in part due to the fact that it wasn’t the most taxing of exercises – and yes they did mean you could put the times tables to one side for just a moment. But after the finished product, I always felt mightily disappointed. Perhaps I am not a natural haiku-ist (?), but I do believe that haikus work a lot better when written in Japanese. The only English haiku I have properly appreciated was one written by my friend Sabrina:
Haiku’s just begun
Oh no not another one
Don’t worry, it’s done
Short but sweet, and coincides with my feelings of mild dislike towards English haikus.
Japanese haikus traditionally each contain a kigo, a word or phrase which symbolises the season of the poem, which is taken from the saijiki, a detailed list of such words. Moreover, these haikus usually contain two juxtaposing images in order to create rich and imaginative imagery. When reading Japanese haikus (given without the characters because I am yet to learn Japanese) phonetically the words roll off the tongue and do sound rather beautiful.
fu-ru-i-ke ya (5)
ka-wa-zu to-bi-ko-mu (7)
Translation: old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
But it seems to me undeniable that something vital has been lost in translation… so why do us English-speaking haiku-attempters continue attempting the futile? A short poem not restricted to 5/7/5 syllables would suit the long-worded English language a lot more in my opinion.
I can’t help but feel that haikus are a fad which caught on despite being quite unspectacular (like, say, artisanal condiments). But I suppose I am rather biased because I enjoy poems with a little more meat on their bones.
What do you think of haikus?