It’s often recommended that in order to operate effectively at all levels in the world one needs to be firmly in the present moment. The recommendation often comes without practical guidance. A pleasant and painfree way to be firmly in the present is to write haiku. The habit of haiku-writing keeps one centred in the present moment.

Haiku are one result of being in Mindfulness (see my blog ‘Till there’s a Greek Crisis’ of 12th November 2011…) In Fourth Way terms they can result from the practice of Self-remembering.

In the December 2011 edition of Blithe Spirit, the journal of The British Haiku Society of which I am currently privileged to be the editor, David Cobb, a founder member of the Society which has been going for over twenty years, attempts a definition of haiku thus:-

haiku /’hie,kooh/ n.pl. haiku  1 the most popular Japanese verse form, initially written in one vertical line of 17 on (measures of sound); uses a seasonal expression in a rather symbolic way to imply the reflection of human emotions in Nature; has a break created by a ‘cutting word’, so that two phrases are juxtaposed; the whole being open-ended as to meaning; for convenience of printing, often converted to a three-line arrangement  2 an English or other European language adaptation of the above; influenced by Western imagism and existentialism as well as Japanese models; replaces the ‘cutting word’ with punctuation or a sense pause; no restriction as to subject matter. Typically written in 3 horizontal lines of ‘free verse’, short-long-short, totalling 17 syllables or fewer. Characteristically self-effacing, non-aphoristic, non-judgmental, open-ended—compare SENRYU, ZAPPAI

senryu /’sen,ryoo/ n.pl. senryu  1 Japanese verse of the same length as the HAIKU, but without requirement of either seasonal reference or ‘cutting word’, making pointed comment on human behaviour, and generally regarded as vulgar  2 an English or other European language adaptation of the above, with no stigma attached—compare ZAPPAI

zappai /’za,pie/ n.pl. zappai  1 joky Japanese verse superficially resembling HAIKU, but intended as a display of the writer’s wit or  sentiment, and possibly intended as an adage or aphorism  2 a similar verse in English or some other European language—compare SENRYU

There’s a general misconception around that haiku are easy to write or just jokes; there are many examples of rubbish haiku on the Internet; there are many well-known ‘poets’ who do a real disservice to the Japanese model and betray their ignorance. You can Google Wendy Cope, for instance, and then there’s Roger McGough:-

The only problem
with haiku is that you just
get started and then

For me the whole point of haiku is that they come from a completely different place in the human psyche from where ordinary thought-out poems like this one originate. Haiku are not thought-out, not a product of the left-brain; properly produced they come from a whole person’s immersion in the nature of the universe, whatever that might mean for you. If anything, it’s true to say that a haiku, like love, finds you; when you look for a haiku or for love they hardly ever happen.

This is quite difficult for anybody steeped in the western tradition of poetry where you go on a hunt for a special word, a nice-sounding image, a posh original metaphor, a clever statement of an idea, a memorable conceit, or ‘allitrition’s artful aid’, as Mr Polly put it.

In some eastern thinking the dichotomy of observer and thing-observed, with which we are familiar, falls down; there is just a single event of which the limited number of words in a haiku is the writer’s  record—often one with which s/he is rather uncomfortable. When a haiku ‘works’ in the mind of the reader some feeling or the other is generated by the words which in themselves seem generally uncommited.

So in the first haiku in my growing collection here, for instance, the words seem simply to point to a common-or-garden occurrence which maybe, for the reader, has a more universal relevance. What took a couple of seconds to write may resonate with the reader for a rather long time, as it does for me now that I contemplate it at some distance in time. It certainly brings the ‘moment’ back to me.


another year
of baby starlings
under the gable end

young woman in black
running—long brown hair
flowing with sunlight

the kettle boiling
breaks the quiet
of the watching photos

(Found in Henry Green’s novel Blindness)

in the crinkly willow—
sun-dial shadow creeping

on a grassy slope
long ago awaiting
her decision

path through the woods
full of may blossom dangling
—the Railway Tavern

in an easy chair
at 4 of a May afternoon
with book & pen

in secret gardens—
rolling clouds

39 this year—
and she’ll be 40 next;
after that her voice drains

in a Thai restaurant
a party of ten plus the one
they’re not talking about

multi-armed Thai statue
—the talk turns round
failed holidays

laughing loudly she tries
to make her birthday dinner
go with a swing

the bright smile
of the girl to whom
I gave the right tip

in last night’s dream
I can walk just like
in the Good Old Days

fresh now after the rain
threatening all morning
came & went

the loud ambulance—
people in Ipswich station
pretend normality

a single night
in a Victorian basement
—the huge black cat

his kitchen balcony
fulfilling a dream of hers
she moved in with him

the train came & went—
the hundred dark shapes against
bright cloud became sparrows

5 o’clock morning
feeling decidedly ill—
bird-loud blue sky

martins looping blue
and shadows shifting towards
the death of the day

how false it can be—
warm summer noon

the book I found
so pretentious—
turning its very last page

declining sun—
staccato bird sounds
except for the chaffinch

distant childrens’ voices
turn a wet summer afternoon
into a spell

out of the window
the great copper beeches—
churchyard evening

a gleam of summer
frozen into Time
through tall polars

haiku-writer’s mum
says she’s written one now—
she laughs & laughs & laughs

fried rice with salmon—
home after a trying trip:
a garden idyll

the roses tipping
out fragrance on the dusk air—
blackbird & chaffinch

goldfinches come down
to my pond to drink
the stillness of water

ah Gerontius!
over & over again
since my dream of youth

at Frensham Ponds
on a summer afternoon
the heat and the music

a blackbird comes down
to my pond to drink—
the open summerhouse door

my summerhouse—
chapel cell
& meadowseet

in the Underground
heatwave woman with a fan
sits just close enough

the honeysuckle—
each drooping strand
heavy with scent

it begins (this new day)
with the combined blare
of chaffinch & blackbird

17 Haiku Found in Thomas Merton’s Vow of Conversation

Writers of prose, and others, often depict ‘haiku-moments’ in their writing; when you are in tune with the idea of writing haiku  it’s quite legitimate, in my view, to rescue the haiku they unwittingly pen and acknowledge your indebtedness to them. Thomas Merton is one such writer brimful of haiku moments.

snow washed away—
hills purple & cold
sharply outlined now

paradise smell
under the pines in warm sun—
a seat of branches

cat in the windy dark
running through
slabs of light

night full
of rushing wind & water
—the expectation of spring

in a time of floods
all the people vanish
except in newspapers

precise days of spring:
trees begin to leaf
a green smell over the hills

the song
of an unknown bird
seized by heavenliness

a very cool dawn
half-moon behind clouds
& the smell of cow-dung

the dark comfort
of rainy trees
and their shadows

full moon at midnight
the whole valley drenched
in silence—dark clarity

technological society—
I will go out
and split logs

how easy
to follow this familiar path
by starlight alone

hard brightness of stars
through the pines
bright darkness of dawn

the night
filled with the depth
& silence of snow

I deceive myself
but am not able to catch
myself in the act

the unconscious wood—
a long moment of perfect
clarity at dawn

a black hound bays
in the hollow for some rabbit
he will never catch

One thought on “HAIKU

  1. Haikus like stars burning with pinpointed intensity make the pattern of the universe.
    Translated one of these into a drawing in a gap between bouts of wage slavery.


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