D’s Poetry : Haiku 5 : History of Haiku

D’s Poetry is a living archive of all poetry penned by me, Divvya Nirula. Join me on this journey today as we discover the rich history of Haiku.

“Bright as our eye-sight,
The ship sets sail for afar,
The rocks wait for wrecks.”

Divvya Nirula

The History of Haiku

Once I discovered the Haiku in 7th grade, there was no turning back. I spent much of my free time delving into the history of this verse structure. And also the history of its country of origin. Japan!

Haiku – or hokku, as they were originally called – were part of longer poems. They formed the introductory section of the verse. And were written in the same structure as we know today. As 17 syllables in a 5-7-5 meter. These short unrhymed sections were eventually viewed as poems in themselves.

The adoption of Haiku as a form of poetry happened in the 17th century. This was done going against the Japanese tradition of writing long, wordy poems.

17th century tradition dictated that the subject matter of a Haiku be limited to certain things. These included descriptions of nature, landscape, seasons and also other natural and geographical phenomenon. For example, it was not common to write a Haiku about another person.

History records that Master Matsuo Bashō polished and popularised this structure of poetry. He did this especially during his time spent in Edo. Even after Bashō many great poets upheld this tradition of poetry.

Haiku played a crucial role in democratising poetry in 17th century Japan. This form of short verse was very relatable to the masses. As opposed to the long, winging poems that would otherwise require some amount of literary knowledge to understand. Additionally, these poems also spoke of subjects that all could relate to. Such as nature and one’s natural surroundings. Haiku poets used few words to express volumes. And I think this is the most fascinating aspect of this style.