Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Carpe Diem Ghost Writer #42, 5-7-5 not easy

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

As I was preparing yesterday's post I ran through older posts and I encountered a question by Birgitta of Crazy Art - Photo and Poetry. She asked that question a while ago and I had promised to write a post about it. Until today it had slipt my attention, but today I will try to fulfill my promise. Birgitta her question was about the 5-7-5 syllables rule of haiku. This will not be an easy post, because (as you all know), I am not a fan of the 5-7-5 syllables.

In ancient Japan the common rule was to write haiku in one line (mostly vertical) which was cut in three parts. Every "part" followed the idea of 5-7-5 "onji" or "sound-units". Japanese is a wonderful language which is based on sound as I have explained in our Haiku Writing Techniques chapter 2 "onomatopoeia". a Haiku Writing Technique which is especially for languages based on sounds.

As haiku became more known in the western world we have sought for the right way to translate the Japanese haiku in to our western languages, but the most western languages aren't based on sounds. So western scholars choose to follow the 5-7-5 onji rule by translating it into 5-7-5 syllables, however that made it almost impossible for several languages (including e.g. Dutch). In that time as we westerners started to translate first and later wrote our own haiku the most haiku following the 5-7-5 syllables became artificial, and were called "counted verses".

Every language has its own rules for syllables. In English the rules for syllables are different than e.g. in Dutch or Swedish ... so it's not easy to use the 5-7-5 syllables rule. Several scholars, e.g. Jane Reichhold, introduced the alternative way of composing haiku by bringing up the idea of "a haiku is a poem with three lines following the sequence short-long-short. Others started to bring another way of counting syllables e.g. 3-5-3 syllables, which is more easy to compose.

As you all know I am not a fan of the strict syllables count mostly because of the idea that it is to structured for me and gives to less freedom to compose my haiku ... and becoming artificial. There are several haiku poets of our times who started with that 5-7-5 idea, but during their growth as a haiku poet they more and more got rid of the 5-7-5 rule.
To start with haiku it's ok to use that 5-7-5 rule, but try to loose it after a while, more or less syllables will not harm your haiku ... and it gives you more freedom to compose haiku from your heart. In my opinion using the 5-7-5 rule is really artificial and more with your mind, your brain, and I think poetry has nothing to do with artificiality or your brain. Maybe this is a pure western thought, but I think we, westerners, have re-formed haiku to our western way of thinking, living and so on.

I think we have to let go the 5-7-5 rule and have to try writing haiku as westerners. It's not a "sin" if you don't use the 5-7-5 rule, it's more a blessing to become free of that rule .... it makes haiku (in my opinion) even better and stronger.
Of course that choice is yours. If you love to write your haiku in the 5-7-5 sequence .... than feel free to do so, but it is no obligation. Maybe writing haiku in the 5-7-5 way is a new challenge, to me it is for sure a challenge and not only because of my ideas about, but also because of the fact that I am not familiar enough with the syllables-rules in English.

This was our GW-post for this week and I have a challenge for you all .... Try to write a haiku with the above mentioned 3-5-3 syllables option, a haiku with the 5-7-5 syllables option and a third haiku in the "free-style" as we saw e.g. in the haiku by Santoka Taneda.

Here are my three haiku:

stretch out to the summer sky -
a dog barks

© Chèvrefeuille

As I "count" the syllables of the second line following the Dutch rules, than that line has 7 syllables, but in English the syllables-count is 5 ...

Now I will try to write a haiku following the classical count of 5-7-5 syllables, an oldie:

finally dreams become true
just one peaceful spring night -
blossoms of cherry bloom

© Chèvrefeuille

And finally I will try to write a haiku in the "free-style":

at sunrise
poppies still redder
sacrifice for God

© Chèvrefeuille

Well ... I hope this GW-post has given you all an idea of the 5-7-5 rule and I hope to read wonderful haiku written by you all in response on this GW-post.

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until April 10th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our new episode, the second CD Special by Kala Ramesh, later on.


  1. Hi Kristjaan, On counting English syllables, it's nowhere near as hard as you think and is just like Dutch (I lived in Holland for two years and have been living with a Dutchman for 26 years, so I have some experience here). "Stretch out to the summer sky" is definitely 7 syllables, not 5 (just count everything you hear pronounced). "Finally dreams become true" is, I'm afraid, also 7, not 5, syllables, "just one peaceful spring night" is 6 and "blossoms of cherry bloom" is also 6. So if you don't like 5/7/5, it may be because you think it has more sounds in it than it actually does. With some English words, there's room for debate - is magnolia "mag-no-lee-a" (4 syllables) or "mag-no-lya" (3 syllables)? But the great thing is, you can go for either, and no one will quibble.

  2. Oh thanks ever so much for this one! Now I am really confused ha ha ;)
    You know I am a very free spirit when doing things but suddenly I discovered Carpe Diem and Haiku and liked the strict 5-7-5 Wow! Not like me at all :)
    Now I understand that my strict haikus - in the Swedish way of counting - makes them very free in English way of counting. What is a syllable in English? I wonder but it doesn't matter however. Oh I do like this a lot <3 :)
    Now I will try (my way) - all the best to you our Host and to all of you/ Birgitta

  3. There's a lot of negativity these days about writing haiku in the 5-7-5 pattern, but I don't know why. I think it's perfectly acceptable, and I write most of my haiku this way. If others want to abandon tradition in favor of something else, they are welcome to do so. I find that working within the confines of 5-7-5 pattern sharpens my focus. Feel free to disagree, but please don't disparage me. Thank you!

  4. Thank you all for your responding on this post. To give answer on several questions here: I like the strict 5-7-5 rule, because of its place in haiku, but its not my way of writing haiku. For my 5-7-5 haiku I use a syllables-counter, because of the fact that I am not that familiar with the English way of counting syllables. And ... Brigitta it's not a matter of counting syllables, just enjoy this wonderful Japanese poetry form. To me haiku is magnificent, and as we have seen in the haiku by Santoka Taneda ... haiku in the so called 'free style' are also a joy to write/compose. Just follow your heart as you are composing haiku .... that's the strength of haiku .... follow your heart, see the pine tree as the pine tree or see the bamboo as the bamboo nothing more, nothing less.

  5. I don't know what a syllables counter is but it's counting wrong - your 5-7-5 haiku is actually 7-6-6. So it's breaking the only really sacrosanct rule left that a haiku shouldn't be more than 17 syllables. Which means this counter is telling you something that just isn't right, which seems a pity. Similarly, your 3-5-3 haiku is actually 3-7-3. There's not an "English" way of counting syllables - it's the same as in any Western European language. Read the haiku out loud and count each sound you hear. If your English pronunciation is as good as most Dutch people, or even if it's not, you'll be far more accurate than this useless syllable counter. I know you don't usually count syllables but if you want to write a classical haiku in English, I just want to reassure you that it's not some dark, mysterious art calculating the sounds in it. Like Mark, I like having a structure to work to, to give me some discipline, although I often end up dropping a couple of syllables in my final version.

    1. I use the so called "syllables-counter" at http://www.wordcalc.com/ but of course I try to follow the sound of my haiku, but in a way I think that counting syllables isn't wrong, but in my opinion it blocks the freedom and the joy of writing/composing haiku'. And that one (as you call it) sacrosanct rule that a haiku shouldn't be more than 17 syllables ... you have to forget. Try to think "out of the box" ... but that's my opinion.

  6. I would just add that the more words and the more syllables you use, the less the poem resembles a haiku. That's why I think it's important to limit haiku to no more than 17 syllables. Fewer syllables are fine, but more are not!

  7. I like this discussion a lot, but it's not my goal to convince my fellow haiku family members of the way I think about syllables. I just promote the idea of writing haiku from the heart and in my opinion those 5-7-5 syllables are not fitting that idea.

  8. Hi Kristjaan, I don't mind how many syllables you use, that's your choice of course, my point is just that the syllable counter can't count and is misleading you. In English, each distinct sound is a syllable, same as in Dutch.

    1. I had heard that earlier that those syllables counters aren't great, but for me it was a kind of support to write haiku in the classical way. In my posts I ask our haiku family members on a regular base to write a classical haiku, but if I ask that from them I surely have to do it myself ..., but now I have tried it a few times by the sound and that gives me a great relief ... so I have decided to skip the syllables counter websites.

    2. Oh, I am so glad you've ditched the syllable counter! If you read everyone's 3/5/3 and 5/7/5 haiku out loud that they submitted and count each sound out on your fingers as you go, you'll get the hang of it in no time :-)

  9. Keep haiku under 17 syllables. Don't pad your work to make it fit a syllable rule. At the same time, don't completely eliminate article words (an,the, a etc) because then the haiku will read like a Kung Fu movie script.

    Study the other more important targets such as:

    * a haiku with a two part structure rather than 3 disconnected lines
    * a seasonal word or reference (just one, not 2 or 3 in a single haiku)
    * immediate sensory imagery
    * and AVOIDING judgement and analysis (usually found in line 3)

    Avoiding judgement and analysis means not inserting your opinion or your analysis or a summary of so the thing in which you're writing about in your haiku. Such as this:

    robin bird
    feeding her chicks ...
    ahhh, it's so cute <-----opinion

    the earthly scent
    of dappled sunshine ...
    nature's best fragrance <----- summary and opinion

    ancestral grounds ...
    tome stones lean on each other
    just like while living <----analysis

    If you want to stick to 5-7-5 then do your best to make it look natural so that you don't even notice it's counted.

    Oh there's so much more to writing these deceptively simple little poems.

    Good luck. Happy learning

  10. You were right: This wasn't so easy! LOL I did enjoy it though, even if I missed the deadline. Here's a link in case you'd like to critique my take on the challenge: http://wp.me/p51loS-3U.

  11. https://theyyouandme.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/pine-trees-haiku/