D’s Poetry : Haiku 7 : The Kigo

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 role of a kigo in a Haiku.

“Purpose Fades, Blood blue
The Wind sings a song of Life,
The Ambulance Stops!”

Divvya Nirula

What is a Kigo?

In a Haiku poem, the kigo refers to the word that indicates the season in which the poem is set. It is the word that alludes to nature or the environment.

As we already know, traditional Japanese haiku are nature themed poems. The haiku poets of the 17th century spoke of Japan, her landscapes, her seasons, and her flora and fauna. This tradition has been carried forth since then, albeit in different ways. Thus, all old haiku, and most modern haiku, contain a kigo. Let us understand this better with an example. Consider the following poem.

An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond—
Splash! Silence again.

The Old Pond by Matsuo Bashō (translated by unknown)

In the above haiku, the frog is the kigo. It represents the season of spring. And evokes an image of green grass, flowers blooming, trees swaying in the wind.

It is interesting to note here, that Japan is a vertical country. Therefore, the seasonal structures vary depending on what part of the country one is in. However, the kigo is typically a reference to the seasons as experienced around Kyoto. Why? Because centuries ago, Kyoto was the hub for cultural and literary evolution. Most poets settled here, and thus their weather references were based on this area.

Today, poets all over the world write haiku. The kigo in their poems is based on their own local seasons. For instance, an American haiku referencing pumpkins or Halloween would presumably be set in autumn. Furthermore, some modern poets choose not to reference nature at all, and therefore have no kigo in their haiku.

You are invited along on this journey of discovery and writing. For more poetry and verse by Divvya Nirula, please visit the archive for D’s Poetry.