Monday, October 20, 2014

Carpe Diem's "Ask Jane ..." #5, a question by Carol

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Jane asked me to publish this new article for Ask Jane. Jane is responding spontaneous on a comment by Carol, which Carol shared in our last Ask Jane episode. Here is our new episode of Carpe Diem's "Ask Jane ..."


In reading the comments to the last Ask Jane question I found this by Carol and felt she needed some help. So here is another letter. Use it if you wish.  

\o/ Jane

Question: I am trying to do some haiku without the 17 syllable rule. I assume you just “follow your heart” and forget the counting. Carol in Creative Harbor.

Dear Carol,
I get a wisp of indecision about counting syllables in haiku in your comment on Carpe Diem and wanted to try to put your mind at rest.

If you were Japanese and writing your haiku in Japanese it would be proper for you to use 17 kana (not syllables!). These are the sound units in spoken Japanese. Since your haiku are written in English you cannot use this Japanese rule because our syllables are about 1/3 longer than the Japanese sound units.
The Japanese who brought the knowledge of haiku to English-readers made this mistake of calling a sound unit a syllable and saying we should use 17 of them. The mistake persisted until English scholars figured out the error. And the error persists.

So if you are writing your English haiku with 17 syllables they contain about 1/3 too much information / words / ideas. The newest English rule to keep the haiku shape is to suggest the author use “short, long, short” lines in a relationship that suggests the Japanese haiku form. Many are using this rule and I find it results in haiku that can be accurately translated into Japanese sound units or kana. The 17-syllable haiku come out too long.
So we have more freedom in shaping our haiku than we thought.

You ask if I ignore counting syllables. No. If one of my lines looks too long I will count the syllables to find a way to shorten it. Sometimes a haiku will use up 17 syllables, but my rule is to NEVER PAD OUT THE LINE to make it fit. If it happens naturally, without padding or adding extra words, I occasionally will leave it as I received it. At some time then, I may rewrite it to shorten the haiku.
I hope this helps you and gives you the freedom to more easily accept your own ideas!

\o/ Jane


I hope you did like this new episode of "Ask Jane ...". Do you have a question for Jane? Email them to our special emailaddress:


  1. Thank you once again, Chevrefeuille, for posting these questions and responses -- and thank you, Jane, for helping everyone at CDHK :)

  2. Jane....Inspirational! Your essay allows us to take off the gloves when knocking out a haiku....It is tough to write or type with heavy and padded restrictions.....Thanks.... opie

  3. Thank you - this is one of the best explanations I have read about the differences of Japanese and American Japanese style haiku. And with a gentle touch that allows for those who do still 'count' to review their pieces without the feeling of being attacked or ridiculed because of how they were originally taught.

  4. A wonderful explanation Jane. I found myself with this problem pad or not to pad..I padded. Now I will try a different approach. Thanks for your input.