Haiku, Senryu, and Haibun are three of the many forms of Japanese poetry originating and written in Japan for centuries.
Many people have tried to translate the Japanese writings to English. This is almost always not possible due to the voice inflexions when reading or speaking this form of poetry. The sounds of the syllables differ greatly. The number of words, or lack thereof, in the translation, throws the form off its rhythmic course.
Traditional Haiku and Senryu contain the formula 15-17-15. That’s fifteen syllables in the first line, seventeen in the second, and again, fifteen in the third.
Additionally, a title is never tacked onto most Japanese poetry. Too, in Haiku and Senryu and many other forms, no punctuation is ever used.
The words, the syllables, state the meaning. Nothing more is necessary.
Haiku is used to write about nature.
Think about it. What could Mother Nature do to repay us for our polluting and altering her perfect cycles? Starve us.
Darkness in our lives disappears when we view each new day as a chance to begin life anew.
Senryu is used to write about emotion.
People say when someone provokes you, that person is creating his or her own karma that must, in time, return to them. However, if the one being provoked strikes back or retaliates, they too create an affect that will surely come back to haunt them.
So this Senryu tests whether we strike back or handle the situation another way without bringing negativity to ourselves.
Or this one:
We can keep our children safe, but we must also prepare them for the world at large. Believing we can teach them all they need to know is a fallacy. The world and life teaches.
Haibun is an explanation of a scene depicted in a Haiku or Senryu, maybe extending into a short story.
Then follows the poem related in some way to the previous information. Traditionally a short prose passage is followed by a poem. Haibun are simply narratives of special moments in a person's life.
Nature seems angry, raining out of season, causing floods that decimate farm fields. All the farmer has left to pick is rotted crops and rusted machinery.
The original Haibun style, created by the Japanese poet-monk known as Basho, tended to focus on his wanderings through Japan.
Most often, but not necessarily, it is written in the present tense—as if the experience is unfolding now rather than yesterday or some time ago.
Modern writers who attempt these forms of poetry confuse the purposes of the traditional requirements.
When attempting to learn this form of poetry, be something of a purest and try to adhere to the established norms of form and content.
If the established form is followed, then something has really been accomplished. Japanese poetry is not easy.
Both forms are written with the standard 5-7-5 words. However, proper Japanese poems consider each syllable as a word form. So if you use a word with two syllables, you would have a line with fewer than 5-7-5 words.
For example, the word learned is pronounced as one syllable in English. It would be pronounced learn-ed in Japanese writing. That’s two syllables.
This exquisite form of poetry takes some time to contemplate just the right words that will convey a definite meaning that lingers in the mind.
Once I found myself seeking shorter ways to say things with the same amount of meaning, I read a conversation online about abbreviated forms of Japanese poetry – definitely an English influence - and thought I’d try it just to see how few words I could use. These are some of my samples:
Can’t you just hear that big old bull frog croaking? And the moth he picked up with a flick of his tongue? Croaked.
We all know about the dark of the moon, don’t we? It’s the night of the New Moon, when there really is no moon showing in the sky. With no moon reflecting the sun’s light, you will see no shadows.
Surely you’ve watched a baby learning as it plays.
Can you imagine the emotion of a boat captain unable to see through a fog, sounding his horn, hoping the way is clear? Do you know what emotion you feel when you hear the tooting but can’t see the boat?
When I see a beautiful, vivid sky such as this, I imagine my face being bathed in this beautiful light.
All writers and poets are encouraged to try these various forms of poetry: Haiku, Senryu and Haibun. They teach the value of using words sparingly.