A 17-syllable verse form consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. One of the most important forms of traditional Japanese poetry, haiku remains popular in modern Japan, and in recent years its popularity has spread to other countries.
Loose usage by students, translators, and even poets themselves has led to much confusion about the distinction between the three related terms haiku, hokku, and haikai. The term hokku literally means “starting verse.” A hokku was the first or “starting” link of a much longer chain of verses known as a haikai no renga, or simply haikai, in which alternating sets of 5-7-5 syllables and 7-7 syllables were joined. Hokku gradually took on an independent character. Largely through the efforts of
Strictly speaking, then, the history of haiku begins only in the last years of the 19th century. The famous verses of Edo-period (1600−1868) masters such as Matsuo
When haikai began to emerge as a serious poetic genre in the early 16th century, two characteristics distinguished it from serious renga: its humorous intent and its free use of haigon (colloquialisms, compounds borrowed from Chinese, and other expressions that had previously been banned from the poetic vocabulary). However, the erudite
After Teitoku's death his formalistic approach was challenged by the more freewheeling
Bashō was not only the greatest of haikai poets, he was also primarily responsible for establishing haikai as a true art form. Having received instruction in both the Teitoku and Danrin styles of haikai, he gradually developed in the late 17th century a new style that, through its artistic sincerity, transcended the conflict between serious renga and comic haikai and could express humor, humanity, and profound religious insight all within the space of a single hokku.
After Bashō's death many of his disciples set up their own schools of haikai. In general these poets sought special effects−with some writing enigmatic, puzzlelike verse and others satisfying themselves with witty wordplay−and at times their haikai became virtually indistinguishable from
The number of composers of haikai grew rapidly in the early 19th century. This popularization, however, was accompanied by a general decline in quality. The most notable exceptions were Iwama Otsuni (1756−1823) and Kobayashi Issa. Issa's poems about his poverty and about his love for small animals and insects are particularly memorable, and today he ranks with Bashō and Buson as one of the most beloved haikai poets.
The history of modern haiku dates from Masaoka Shiki's reform, begun in 1892, which established haiku as a new independent poetic form. It is a history that features constant experimentation and the confluence of various literary trends such as naturalism, romanticism, symbolism, and proletarianism. Basic to the modernization of haiku was Shiki's most important concept, shasei, or sketching from life−a term borrowed from the critical vocabulary of Western painting. The magazine that Shiki began in 1897,
Shiki's reform did not change two traditional elements of haiku: the division of 17 syllables into three groups of 5, 7, and 5 syllables and the inclusion of a seasonal theme.
Protesting against the prosaic flatness characteristic of much of the works of Hekigotō's school, Seisensui maintained in 1912 that free-verse haiku must also discard the seasonal theme. He held that haiku must capture in its rhythms not the object perceived but the poet's perception. The work of many able poets appeared in his magazine Sōun. Notably successful among them were
By 1920 a second generation of poets clustered about Hototogisu, including
Mizuhara Shūōshi broke away from Hototogisu in 1931, two years after having assumed the editorship of the magazine Ashibi. Shūōshi's talent for making imaginative use of the historical past shines in his collection Katsushika (1930). Ashibi was an important outlet for such poets as Yamaguchi Seishi,
In the early Shōwa period the term shinkō haiku (new haiku) loosely identified all groups that deviated from the traditional Hototogisu school. In addition to the Ashibi poets and the modernistic school of Hino Sōjō's magazine Kikan, the term also included the proletarian school, headed by Kuribayashi Issekiro (1894−1961), originally of Seisensui's group. Other prominent proletarian poets were Hashimoto Mudō (1903−74), Shimada Seihō (1882−1944), and Yoshioka Zenjidō (1889−1961). Another politicizing group centered around the liberal publication Kyōdai haiku, which appeared during the period 1933−40 and accepted both conventional and free-verse haiku.
Joining Hototogisu in 1933,
During the military-dominated prewar and World War II period, haiku was controlled by government censorship. The immediate postwar period saw an effort by the leftist union Shin Haikujin Remmei to “break the hold of feudalism in haiku and to expose war collaborators,” a pronouncement aimed at Hototogisu and other traditional schools. In 1947 many leading poets withdrew from this union. The Modern Haiku Association (Gendai Haiku Kyōkai) was formed in July 1947 to “enhance modern haiku” with the inclusion of all groups from the political left to the literary traditionalists.
The effort to unite all factions was stimulated by a widely discussed 1946 article entitled “Daini geijutsuron” (On a Second-Class Art), in which the critic
Ashibi, which continues to appear, is the most important vehicle of the nontraditional haiku. Other prewar magazines that continue to appear are Ishida Hakyō's Tsuru and Katō Shūson's Kanrai. Iida Dakotsu's Ummo ceased publication in 1992. The extreme haiku fringe of symbolism and surrealism is found in such magazines as Taiyōkei, founded in 1946 by Mizutani Saiko (1903−67) and Tomizawa Kakio (1902−62), and Bara, started in 1952 by Tomizawa Kakio and Takayanagi Shigenobu (1923−83).
The West's first introduction to haiku came in B. H. Chamberlain's pioneer work, Japanese Poetry (1910), in a chapter entitled “Bashō and the Japanese Epigram.” William Porter's early anthology of translations was entitled A Year of Japanese Epigrams (1911). Haiku was first introduced to France by Paul-Louis Couchoud at the time of the Russo-Japanese War. The title of his introduction to haiku was Les Epigrammes Lyriques du Japon. The use of the term “epigram” in these titles is indicative of how haiku was first interpreted abroad.
Ezra Pound quickly noticed and appropriated the haiku technique of cutting up the poem into two independent yet associated images. In France Paul Eluard wrote poems in the haiku style. Haiku has rapidly become naturalized both in Europe and in the United States, and magazines of original haiku are published. Haiku magazines in the United States include Modern Haiku, byways, and Tweed.
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