A haiku (俳句 high-koo) is a short three-line poem that usually follows a 5-7-5 syllable structure. Haiku poetry was originally developed by Japanese poets, and is often inspired by nature, a moment of beauty, or a poignant experience. Haikus are meant to be read in one breath for resonance and impact. We’ll show you how to write a beautiful, pleasant-sounding poem in the quick steps below.
Brainstorming Ideas for the Haiku
Go for a walk in nature. Many haikus are inspired by objects in the natural world, such as trees, rocks, mountains, and flowers. To get ideas for your poem, take a walk in a park nearby or go for a hike in the woods. Head to a mountain trail or a body of water like a river, lake, or beach. Spend some time in nature and observe it so you can get ideas for the poem.
If you can’t go outside for a walk in an area with nature, try looking at nature photographs and art in books or online. Find a particular nature scene or object in nature like a tree or flower that inspires you.
Focus on a season or seasonal event. Haikus can also be about a season, such as fall, spring, winter, or summer. You can also focus on a natural event that happens at a certain time of year, such as the blooming of the cherry blossom trees in your neighborhood or the salmon run in the river near your house.
Seasonal haikus often focus on a specific detail about the season, naming the season in the poem. Writing about a season can be a fun way for you to describe a particular detail you love about that time of year.
Choose a person or object as your subject. Haikus do not all have to be about nature or the seasons. You can also choose a particular person or object as an inspiration for the poem. Maybe you want to write a funny haiku about your dog. Or perhaps you want to write a thoughtful haiku about your childhood toy.
Try to only focus on one person or one object in the poem. Haikus are short and you may not have enough space in three lines to write every thought you have about the person or object.
Read examples of a haiku. To get a better sense of the genre, read haikus that are well known and considered good examples of the form. You can find examples in books or online. Read haikus that are about nature and other subjects. You may read:
Focus on an event in your past or something that is troubling you. Try finding a resemblance to nature or a metaphor that expresses your feelings shortly. An example may look like this:
Boom, boom, boom, bam, bam!
My head is a battleground
With countless outbursts
Writing the Haiku
Follow the line and syllable structure of a haiku. Haikus follow a strict form: three lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure. That means the first line will have five syllables, the second line will have seven syllables, and the last line will have five syllables.
The poem will have a total of seventeen syllables. To count syllables in a word, place your hand under your chin. Then, say the word. Every time your chin touches your hand, this is one syllable.
A haiku does not have to rhyme or follow a certain rhythm as long as it adheres to the syllable count.
Describe the subject with sensory detail. Haikus are meant to give the reader a brief sense of the subject using the senses. Think about how your subject smells, feels, sounds, tastes, and looks. Describe the subject using your senses so it comes alive for your reader and feels powerful on the page.
For example, you may write about the “musky scent of the pine needles” or the “bitter taste of the morning air.”
If you are writing a haiku about a particular subject, such as your dog, you may describe the “clacking of its nails on the tile” or the “damp fur of wet dog.”
Use concrete images and descriptions. Avoid abstract or vague descriptions. Instead, go for concrete images that are easy for the reader to visualize. Rather than using metaphor or simile, try describing the subject with details that are particular and unique.
Avoid wordy descriptions or elaborate language. Try using simple language so you can stick to the syllable count required for a haiku.
Do not use cliches, or phrases that have become so familiar they lose their meaning. Instead, go for images and descriptions that feel unique.
For example, you may write, “Fall leaves brush the road” or “Dog chases a bright bluebird.”
Write the poem in the present tense. Give the haiku immediacy by using the present tense, rather than the past tense. Using the present tense can also make your lines simple and easy to follow.
End with a surprising last line. A good haiku will have an ending line that is intriguing and leaves the reader hanging. It may leave the reader with a surprising last image or reflect on the previous two lines in a surprising way.
For example, the haiku by Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa has a surprising last line: “Everything I touch/with tenderness, alas/pricks like a bramble.”
Read the haiku out loud. Once you have a draft of the haiku done, read it aloud several times. Listen to how the haiku sounds. Make sure each line flows easily into one another and that the lines follow the 5-7-5 syllable count. The haiku should sound natural when read aloud.
If you notice any awkward or choppy lines, adjust them so they sound smooth. Replace any words that are too long or complicated. Make sure the haiku sounds pleasant when reading aloud.
Show the haiku to others. Get feedback from others about the haiku. Ask friends, family members, and peers what they think of the haiku. Pose questions about whether the haiku embodies a moment in nature or a season.
If you wrote a haiku about a particular subject or object, ask others if they think the haiku does a good job of exploring it.
Center the haiku on the page when it’s done. Place the haiku in the center of the page and center the lines so it forms a diamond shape. This is how haikus are traditionally formatted.
You can also add a short title at the top of the haiku, such as “Autumn” or “Dog.” Avoid long, wordy titles.
Many haikus do not have titles. It is not absolutely necessary that you title your haiku poem.