Carpe Diem Lecture 1

Today I will introduce a new feature on Carpe Diem. I love to share a little bit of my knowledge about haiku. Therefore I have created this new page 'Carpe Diem Lecture'. In this 'lecture' I will tell you something about haiku.

Today the first 'lecture' How to write haiku?


Haiku is, what we call, the shortest poem on the world. It's an original Japanese poem. Haiku as we know it now has it's roots in the Renga. A Renga was a game of poetry and it was a 'hit' at the Emperor's Court. Renga, also called Renku, Bound Verse or Linked Poem, was a 'game' in which (mainly) poets wrote long chains of poems.
Renga started with a 'hokku' (starting verse) and had also strict rules, but that's maybe something for another 'lecture'. The hokku was a three lined verse with 5-7-5 syllables (or characters) and it mostly was a verse that had a double meaning. So with the starting verse the Renga could go in two ways.
The game of Renga was to write hai ('question') and kai ('answer') in turns. Sometimes a Renga was played with big groups of poets and could end up with one hundred or more 'links'.
The intention was to associate on the verse given by the one before you and write a new 'link' to the verse.
Haiku's roots:

As you have read above the Renga started with a 'hokku'. That 'hokku' became in the 17th century haiku. However haiku got his name in the end of the 19th century. It was Shiki (one of the four greatest haiku poets and - masters) that gave haiku his name.
Basho (1644-1694) took the 'hokku' out of Renga and made it an independent poem. He kept the syllable count (5-7-5) and started to write 'haikai' e.g.

old pond
a frog jumps in
sound of water

This 'haikai' is the most known haiku by Basho and he wrote it when he lived in Edo (now Tokyo). It's a masterpiece. I have once written a set of new haiku for Wonder Haiku Worlds  an International website.

Haiku rules:

Haiku has several rules, to many to speak about here, but I will give you, dear reader, the most important rules for haiku:

  1. The syllable count: 5-7-5
    This is the most important rule and this is what makes haiku a haiku.
  2. The inspiration source:A haiku is inspired by a short moment. This short moment is as short as the sound of a pebble thrown in water. Say 'one heart beat' short. (You can say haiku is a 'aha-erlebnis').
  3. The seasonword (kigo)
    To place the haiku in a specific season the classical Japanese poets used 'kigo' or seasonwords. These are words that refer to a season e.g. tulips (Spring); sunbathing (Summer), colored leaves (Autumn) and snow (Winter).
  4. Interchanging
    This I have to explain I think. Interchanging means that the first and third sentence of the haiku are interchangeable without losing the imagery of the haiku e.g.

    a lonely flower
    my companion for one night -
    the indigo sky

    When I 'interchange' the first and third sentence:

    the indigo sky -
    my companion for one night
    a lonely flower 

    Through interchanging the both sentences the image of the haiku didn't change.
  5. Cutting word (kireji)The so called 'cutting word' or 'kireji' was mostly a '-' as I have used in the above given haiku and it means 'here ends the line' or 'a break in the line'. The '-' may be counted as a syllable.
  6. Deeper MeaningEvery haiku (the most haiku) have a deeper meaning. This deeper meaning is mostly a Zen-Buddhistic meaning, because haiku has originated from Zen-Buddhism, but it could also be a deeper meaning based on the philosophy of the haiku poet. The deeper meaning is mostly a spiritual one.
Writing haiku is fun you can asked that at millions of haiku poets all over the world. You have to try it ... and I think that if you start to write haiku you will become an addict of it.

Well ... this was a short Carpe Diem Lecture, but I hope I was clear enough to let you see what haiku is.

For closure a haiku:

the fence looks bright
in the early hazy sunlight -
crystal cobweb

(c) Chèvrefeuille


  1. thanx for the lecture....I strive to accomplish haiku in the true meaning of it, but sometimes I like to go off in different directions, for ex. political or some other controversial topic...So, apparently, those are not really haiku...They are verse with a haiku syllable count! But still, fun to write, and isn't it all about fun?!

    1. Yes Joanne that's so true. Writing haiku is fun. Basho once said: 'well now you know the rules ... and you have to forget them immediatly. Writing haiku is just fun'.

  2. Thanks a lot for this first lecture, Kristjaan, very interesting.
    Basho was wise for he knew that rules would be forgotten or not taken into account.
    Many modern haiku have nothing to do with the classical ones, but...people enjoy writing them just for fun.

  3. Thanks very much for this - and the daily haiku prompt I think this is really wonderful!
    I just saw all your comments that wordpress had locked in spam - I liberated them! Thanks very much. I appreciate your haiku a lot, and the classical haiku you use for inspiration.
    Thanks again!

  4. Thank you very much for posting this! How did I miss this until now?!?

    1. These lectures were not online for a few months, so it's not strange that you don't have seen them earlier Jen.

  5. I feel like I am going about this in the reverse order. I got fascinated by Haiku, wrote a few (now I know that some didn't fit the rules) and now I am reading this 'lecture'.
    Thanks again Kristjaan.

  6. at:

    Dear Kristjaan,

    The image inside a bookshop of my renga students is my copyright. Could you at least acknowledge this please using: image©Alan Summers

    Here's my blog page where the photo was taken:

    kind regards,


  7. About counting syllables. I perhaps count syllables in a Swedish way and I try to be strict about 5+7+5. I count the sound not spelling. But when I count other's haiku there are often fewer so please give some example of counting.
    Ex. Is write one or two syllables in English. I think one.

    1. I will try to explain this in another article which I will publish in our "Just Read" feature, because it isn't easy to explain it in a few words. It has to do with sounding and not-sounding characters. Sorry Birgitta that I can't give you an answer immediately.

    2. "Write" is a one-syllable word.

  8. This is so helpful, Kristjaan. Sometimes I get cobwebs in my mind and have to start simply from the beginning. Thank you for posting these lectures.

  9. Both enjoyable and illuminating. Thank you.

  10. Thank you for this lecture. It was informative. Will write new Haikus with this new knowledge.

  11. Wonderful lecture Kristjaan! Thank you.