Learn to write poetry: THE HAIKU


“Furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto.” Okay, so don’t adjust your set, this is an
English lesson, but we’re looking today at haiku, which is a Japanese form of poetry,
but lots of English poems have been written in the haiku form. So, first of all, I’d like
to thank my students, Kuni and Negu, for their help in training me to recite this
haiku in Japanese. I hope it was okay. So, this is a poem about a frog jumping into
a pond and making a splash. So, it’s a very simple, straightforward scene, just a description
of something in nature, and haiku is often describing something in nature. And you might
think: “Well, why…? How is haiku going to help me learn English?” Okay? So, the… It’s
a very, very short kind of poem. You can see it’s three lines, not many words, so it’s a
manageable, short thing to read every now and then, if you find some on the internet
or whatever. And to find if there is a word in there that you don’t know, you can look
it up and then you’ve learnt a new word. And also, with haiku there is often a philosophical
aspect. It’s a description of something in nature, but there’s also something
there for you to think about. So, okay, let me just summarize. So, the haiku
comes from Japan originally. It started in the 9th century, so that’s a long time ago.
Basho, who wrote this poem, lived in the 17th century, and he’s very famous as a writer
of haiku and as a poet generally. Okay. One of the things about haiku is it’s always…
It’s usually in three lines, and the number of syllables is five, seven, five. Some poets,
some haiku I’ve read in English don’t always follow that number of syllables, but basically
they’re usually three lines, very short, so they’re very quick and easy to read, and it
doesn’t take a lot of time to read a haiku and think about it a little bit,
and maybe learn a new word or two. So, let’s count the syllables, shall we? Just
to be clear what syllables are. So: “Fu-ru i-ke ya”-that’s five-“ka-wa-zu to-bi-ko-mu”-that’s
seven-“mi-zu no o-to”, five. So that’s the number of syllables, because rhythm
is very important in poetry. Okay. So, now we get on to an English version, and
because of copyright rules and all that sort of thing, I decided I would write one of my
own so that I can give myself permission to use it in this lesson. Okay, so here it is, and
I’ve drawn a tree because that is relevant to the poem, so… And you might like to count
the syllables just to check that I got it right. So: “What do I do now? I’m the
last leaf on the tree Waving in the breeze.” Okay? So “waving” is this sort of thing, the
breeze is the wind. The breeze… A breeze is a very small wind; not a very strong wind,
just a gentle, little wind. Okay. So, here’s the tree with one leaf left on it. So, it’s
a scene from nature, if you’ve ever seen a tree with just one leaf left, and you’re looking
and thinking: “Is that going to be blown off soon or will it stay all winter?” But a part
from being a scene from nature, you might think: “Well, that’s quite philosophical as
well”, because if you relate it to a human person who is feeling alone like the last
leaf on the tree… Maybe the last person in their family. “What do I do now? I’m the
last leaf on the tree, waving in the breeze.” So it has a kind of philosophical element as
well if you start thinking about the deeper meaning of it. Okay. So, I’m not really a poet, so that just proves
that you don’t have to be a poet to write a haiku. So I’m going to encourage you to try
to write one of your own and just follow the number of syllables, write one in English,
and post it in the comments on the engVid website. But before we finish this lesson, I
just have one more haiku to show you written by a friend of mine who has given her permission
for us to use her poem, and it’s actually quite a funny one, so you can have humour
in haiku as well, so let’s have a look at that. Okay, so here is an example of a modern haiku
written by my friend Sarah Lawson who has given us her permission to use her poem. That’s
the copyright symbol there to show that it’s her copyright, her property. And it’s quite a
humorous poem, it’s quite funny, but I probably need to explain a little bit to explain why
it’s funny. So, anyway, we’re in London here filming and London is a big city with a lot
of traffic, and there are often traffic jams, very slow. The cars can’t move very quickly,
they get stuck. So, the first line: “A London gridlock”, and a gridlock is when the traffic
just gets so stuck it can’t move. If you have a crossroads or something and the traffic,
they’re trying to get through the traffic lights in both directions, and they’re just
stuck there, waiting and waiting for ages. So, that’s a gridlock. “A London gridlock – But
still the drivers went from Tooting to Barking.” Okay. Now, if you don’t know London, you may
not be familiar with these two place names: “Tooting”, which is in the southwest of London;
and “Barking”, which is northeast. Okay, so if you’re literally going from Tooting to
Barking, you’re going from there to there, right across London, through the middle and
out the other side. So it’s a long, long way. So that’s the literal meaning. Tooting is a
place, Barking is a place. But in addition to that, there’s a double meaning here. “Tooting”,
there is a verb “to toot”, “toot”, and it’s the kind of word that imitates the sound.
So when you’re in a car and you sound the horn, usually press the middle of the steering
wheel or something and go: “Bur, bur, bur, bur”, that’s tooting. So, the double meaning
is there’s a place called Tooting, but there’s also the sound and the action, the verb: “tooting”,
the drivers are tooting. Okay. Making a lot of noise, trying to get through. And also
Barking is the place, but “barking” is also… It’s an idiom for somebody who is going a bit
crazy, because the full term is “barking mad”. Okay. So, if somebody is barking mad,
you imagine them barking like a dog. Maybe not literally, but they just say strange things
and they do strange things. So, people just use the word “barking”: “He’s barking. That
man is barking”, and it means barking mad, you know, very strange person. So, that’s
the double meaning of this line. The place, places on either side of London, but also
they’re tooting their horns; and the traffic itself, because they can’t get where they
want to be very quickly, it is driving them mad. They’re going mad because they can’t
get through to their destination. So that’s the humour. And people say when you explain a
joke it’s not funny anymore, but I hope… I hope you can see the humour in that. So,
that’s just to show how a haiku can be funny, can be a joke. So, again, I’d like to suggest that you give
it a try and see if you can write a haiku, either… Well, in your own native language,
but also definitely in English. Try to write one in English and post it on the engVid website
in the comments section, and that would be a lot of fun to see what you’ve all written
and for you to all see each other’s haikus. So… Okay, so I hope that’s been interesting.
And there’s a quiz, I’m sure there’s going to be a quiz on this, so please look for the
quiz. And there may be a resource sheet about poetry more generally. So that’s all
for now, so see you again soon.

100 Replies to “Learn to write poetry: THE HAIKU

  1. Hi Gill. I am a Japanese woman. Wow, ever since I have been learning English, I have never thought that to make haiku in English!! How challenging and imaginative your work than I thought it would be. In haiku poetry, normally a kigo(a word relating to the season) is required. Namely… a frog, dandelion, warm… these are kigo of spring in Japanese poetry. So the haiku, jumping into a pond and a making splash indicates the spring season. Very high technique though is fun to make it. You can challenge next time perhaps!! but that is a traditional way. We play any style of the hike without kigo already in present style.

  2. Hello Gill
    What do you think about this:

    A mouse is now free
    I am looking for some cheese
    Without blood in me

  3. Hi,Gill. This video inspired me to learn Japanese culture. I'm from China,can you also make a video about Chinese ancient poetry . I know it's much difficult than haiku,but it definitely worths a try.

  4. I watch these videos just so I could see Gill and admire her. You are so lovely my lady, and I want to hug you. 😍

    Love you…

  5. Dear Prof,
    Might I trouble you for a question ?
    Could I use subject pronoun instead of object pronoun after the verb To be.
    Example:
    If I were HE instead of If I were him; it’s I instead of it’s me Thank you kindly. A

  6. Madam! excellent. You are very nice teacher. I surprised. I'm waiting for your more lesson. Thank you so much

  7. thank you for this, I have been writing haiku for more than 15 years, also president of a haiku association. with books and contests….. three lines five seven and five …'but it is not very important. no rhyme. most of people just think is a poem, with all characteristics. but it is not. We need a kigo, and a break. We dont use questions in a haiku. it is more descriptive than questionabling. senryu is more refering to human affairs. Haiku is not a "language gameplay". So the second example is more a senryu rather. But thank you for trying from people who love haiku, haiga and haibun.

  8. Dear Gill, Thank you for your wonderfull lessons. It is a plesure to look at you. You give perfect, noble image of English Lady and English language. Such teachers as you are big treasure because by your image you show true values of English culture.

  9. Good evening. I’m also a Japanese. Basho says now that you are real poet. I definitely agree with him. This unique lesson was very moving. Thank you so much.

  10. Thanks a lot Gill !!! I had to stydy haiku poem for my exam of Literature !!! your lesson was so useful !!! Thank you very much !!!

  11. I clicked on this video
    Thinkin I was goin to learn English
    Turned out to be Haiku
    Now I am triggered to learn Japanese
    Can't help but to search
    'n find new channels that teaches Japanese

    Really bad I know 😜

  12. Limericks haiku and other short poems on Amazon has some really good modern haiku poems. If anyone interested in haikus wants to read and learn.

  13. Hi Gill! I really enjoy your videos. You're an inspiring teacher
    Here's my contribution:
    Winter soon arrived
    And the last leaf of the tree
    Kept swinging in glee

  14. Very nicely teaching ma'am, great work. Really liked. Very informative and easy to understand. Keep good work going.

  15. 俳句ですか!!
    日本語が聞こえてきたからビックリしました!!

    These days I have just started to learn English with your videos.

    I'm so excited to learn English with you!!

    よろしくお願いします😊😊

    from Japan 🇯🇵

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