Haiku – Nature’s Poetic Voice

Haiku is simple enough for young children but complicated and intuitive enough to engage people of all ages and across cultures.

Haiku’s very short form consisting of only three lines may appear trite or non-sensical.  But if that were so, it would not have endured for centuries and continue to be written in many languages and read throughout the world today.

Traditional Haiku contains 17 syllables arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables each.  Haiku feels dream-like with most using sensory and nature-related imagery.

17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho is considered the first Haiku Master. During the 20th century, poets who brought Haiku to America – Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, Amy Lowell, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Jack Kerouac and others – helped spread the form throughout the Western world.

One of my early encounters with Haiku was during a workshop led by David Rosen, psychiatrist, Jungian Analyst, professor and poet. He recommended keeping the spirit of Haiku by writing three short, simple lines, focusing on detail and staying with one or two natural images.

Rosen and his friend and fellow poet Joel Weishaus shared a long-distance correspondence over two years writing a weekly paragraph describing a personal issue or specific event followed by their Haiku summary.   Their book, The Healing Spirit of Haiku, is drawn from their collaboration.

Rosen said, “Haiku embodies aloneness, universality, humor, simplicity, courage, freedom and love. There are no explanations, no causes, no expanded stories…forever a mystery in exactly the same way our dream images remain mysteries.”

Like Haiku, our dreams are often brief, mysterious experiences that may benefit from the practice of writing Haiku.  One very simple dream I recorded in my dream journal is an example.  After mulling over my dream’s images, emotions and narrative, I composed a Haiku from my associations.  I share this Haiku as an example of the form.

Ice glistens and cracks
As winter melts into spring
The closed door opens

Writing Haiku has the potential to bring about a sense of awe and gratitude. That is one reason I love to include Haiku for participants in my writing groups as a way to pinpoint essential qualities from their writing.

Group members typically spend 20 to 30 minutes or more writing personal thoughts as they respond to prompts.  At the end of their stream-of-consciousness writing, they read and reflect on their own words.  This pause allows them an opportunity to notice and reflect on what they have just discovered, sometimes for the first time.  The final step is to create a haiku to crystalize new ways of thinking.

Columbia native David Rembert, Jr., Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at USC, recently published his book of personal poetry, titled “Haiku/Senryu: A Biologist View.” Rembert’s granddaughter Margaret Rainey Green created the beautiful illustrations and his daughter Augusta helped organize his work.

Rembert told me, “I have always loved poetry, but Haiku is relatively new to me.  I try to spend a little time each day reading poetry and writing Haiku.

“The real value of the form of Haiku is that it enables the poet to create a mood, vision, feeling, or experience that requires work on the reader’s part, like a frame for a picture the poet creates.”

Haiku is the perfect form for a biologist-poet such as Rembert.  British scholar R.H. Blyth speculated that the rhythm of the Haiku is a reflection on the rotation of nature’s seasons and patterns.  Blyth wrote: “Haiku is poetry bared to its essentials with Nature at its heart.”

“Haiku/Senryu: A Biologist View,” David Rembert’s collection of 424 original Haiku poems is now available for purchase on Amazon.com where you can search for David Rembert. A link is available at www.susanhendricks.com/resources.

One reader commented on-line, “David Rembert uses words as he would a flashlight in a garden at night.  He matter-of-factly offers up for us a succession of revelations.”

Take some time for yourself to pause and dig into a few verses of Haiku, slowly reading and writing several versions.  It may open your eyes to new growth all around.

Susan Hendricks leads small groups and workshops for personal and therapeutic writing and is an online instructor for The Writing Institute of The Center for Journal Therapy. To read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper and locate links to books mentioned, visit www.susanhendricks.com.


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