A 50s-style illustration of a day in the park with a funny haiku laid over it, which can be read below.
A 50s-style illustration of a day in the park with a funny haiku laid over it, which can be read below.

The haiku is a short poetry form, originating in Japan, that typically adheres to a 17-syllable structure, organised across three lines of five, seven, and five each. You’ve probably seen one before; in any case, you just scrolled through one on the image above.

Haikus have a long, rich history. Once used simply as the opening, tone-setting stanza of a longer Japanese poetry form called renga, the poem began to appear in its more independent form by the last 17th Century, thanks in particular to Matsuo Bashō, the most eminent poet of Japan’s Edo period. Famously, Bashō promoted the independence of what was then called hokku, and elevated the form from a playful form to a sublime one. By roughly the late 19th Century, the form had become known as haiku, and was refined as a nature sketch in words, meant to evoke place and feeling.

Since then, the haiku has exploded. Since the mid-20th Century, haikus have been collected, translated and written in English is now celebrated as an elastic poetry form that, as translator Adam L. Kern points out in The Penguin Book of Haiku, can not only be poignant and zen-like but also “erotic, funny, crude and mischievous”. They can also be written by dogs; they can be painfully British.

Today, the haiku is celebrated worldwide every 17 April, as part of International Haiku Poetry Day. To celebrate the poetic form, its big day, and the slow return to regular life after a year of lockdown, here are ‘11 haikus on a return to normalcy’.

 



‘Best laid plans’, I think,
Striking from my to-do list,
‘Write lockdown novel’

Ah, sweet normalcy
The park hums with life again
Until it rains, obv

Do you remember
How we used to socialise?
One of us has to

The takeaway pint
Proffers one big takeaway:
Sitting down was nice

Brave the toilet queue?
Or do we travel home, and back
Duration: the same

Ah! My friend, from Zoom
I didn’t recognise you
Sans your glitchy voice

Meet you in the pub
As long as you booked it – please,
Tell me you booked it

What’s a holiday?
Is it sitting, with a book,
Like home, but on sand?

Oh, you’ve made a meme?
How clever of you to write,
‘Nature is healing’

What is confidence
If not a fresh new haircut
Not, thank god, self-done

How long now, until
We return to normal, and
I cancel some plans?

 

 

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Image: Mica Murphy / Penguin

 

  • The Penguin Book of Haiku

  • 'A revelation' Sunday Times, Books of the Year 2018

    The first Penguin anthology of Japanese haiku, in vivid new translations by Adam L. Kern.


    Now a global poetry, the haiku was originally a Japanese verse form that flourished from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Although renowned for its brevity, usually running over three lines in seventeen syllables, and by its use of natural imagery to make Zen-like observations about reality, in fact the haiku is much more: it can be erotic, funny, crude and mischievous. Presenting over a thousand exemplars in vivid and engaging translations, this anthology offers an illuminating introduction to this widely celebrated, if misunderstood, art form.

    Adam L. Kern's new translations are accompanied here by the original Japanese and short commentaries on the poems, as well as an introduction and illustrations from the period.

  • Buy the book

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