One of the best things I’ve learned recently is how to enjoy haiku. I was always like, “okay, that’s nice I guess? But what was your point?”
I was thinking of them in terms of words, because they’re made of words, and I’m a verbal thinker. But a haiku is not about words at all, it’s incredibly visual.
I know that seems blindingly obvious! But listen! A haiku magically creates a very beautiful 2-second gif in your mind’s eye.
Alan Watts says good Zen poetry gets the reader to pause briefly, to catch their attention on a very specific sensation or emotion – it’s mindfulness stuff.
Even that old horse
is something to see
this snow-covered morning
You can IMMEDIATELY picture that horse, right?
New Year’s first snow — ah —
just barely enough
to tilt the daffodil
and that flower, with a tiny heap of snow on it?
O bush warblers!
Now you’ve shit all over
my rice cake on the porch
Aw man. (These are all Matsuo Basho, sorry to be obvious but I’m new and basic.)
People get really hung up on the syllable thing, even though we know that only makes sense in syllable-based languages, and is nonsense in English. We know it, but we still make all this 5-7-5 nonsense. But it’s really about being able to fling an image into another person’s mind.
Once you know, it’s a tiny superpower. You can give anyone a free painting anytime, by texting them one.
By Yosa Buson:
Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
Also take a look at the tanka - a haiku with an extra couple of lines that create a perspective shift:
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #10 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.
A newsletter for the terminally curious
Arrives in your inbox every second Thursday.