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What Are the Rules of Haiku?

A haiku is a short form of Japanese poetry that contains 17 syllables.
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  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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A haiku is a short form of Japanese poetry popular throughout the world. Many poets believe the strict rules of haiku help to sharpen poetry writing skills, and haiku writing can also be a beneficial creative writing exercise for writers of other forms of literature, both fiction and nonfiction. The traditional haiku is a poem that contains 17 syllables divided into three lines; the first and third lines contain five syllables each, while the second line contains seven syllables. While many classic haikus are about nature, modern poets can write about anything that interests them.

Many believe there are very strict rules of haiku, and that these rules shouldn’t be broken. For the beginner, it can be helpful to stick to these rules and truly reap the benefits of writing these types of poems. The most basic rule of writing haiku is that these short poems only have 17 syllables in all, and those syllables are split over three lines. A basic way to remember haiku structure is five-seven-five because there are five syllables on the first line, seven syllables on the second line, and the remaining three syllables go on the third line.

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While there are accepted rules of writing haiku, not all poets stick to these rules. While most poets experimenting with haiku stick to the traditional three-line format, a poet might not always follow the strict five-seven-five syllable structure. In fact, there are classic Japanese haikus that have fewer syllables in each line than the accepted rules of haiku dictate. Classic haikus tend to be about nature but modern haiku writers are often encouraged to write about other subjects and themes. Most traditional haikus don’t rhyme, but writing a haiku that does rhyme can be a good way for poets to sharpen their writing skills.

When writing a first draft of this type of poem, many find it beneficial not to dwell too much on the rules of haiku. First, a writer should decide what his haiku will be about, including what is the theme, topic, emotion or experience he wants to explore. Next, he should just begin writing, letting what he wants to say in the haiku flow. After the first draft is written, the writer can then go back and organize what he has written into the traditional three line, five-seven-five structure of a haiku.

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