Monday, November 4, 2013

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho

Before there was Twitter, there was haiku. 

Haiku is the Japanese poetic form that consists roughly of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively. The verse is usually of an image focusing on nature and most often ends with an insightful leap. 

This is what I enjoy about haiku - its brevity and its brain flip at the end.

I picked up a slim book of haiku poetry, On Love and Barley, by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) at Hattie's Books in Brunswick, Georgia. It contains 253 poems and some lovely Japanese illustrations from an album of paintings by Ike no Taiga. It took me about 20 minutes to read these intriguing verses. 

(If you would like to give writing haiku a try, here is a link to a website that might help get you started  - Haiku.)

In his introduction to this volume published in 1985, the translator Lucien Stryk, writes:

Throughout his life as a wanderer Basho sought to celebrate: whether his eyes turned to mountain or gorge, whether his ears heard thunder or birdsong, whether his foot brushed flower or mud, he was intensely alive to the preciousness of all that shared the world with him. 

Here is a sampling:

Yellow rose petals
thunder - 
a waterfall.
Tomb, bend
to autumn wind - 
my sobbing.
From the heart
of the sweet peony,
a drunken bee.
Skylark sings all
day, and day
not long enough.
Autumn - even
birds and clouds
look old.


  1. I've always liked haiku (particularly the ones you've posted here). I'm terrible at writing good haiku, but I love reading it. Each haiku is like a perfect little jewel. Great post!

    1. Oh, Lark, your 'perfect little jewel' is such an apt description! I like how each poem captures just a moment in time. I have tried my hand at writing some verses and find the 5/7/5 constraints to be helpful in narrowing my thoughts. There is another haiku writing site: that gives you space to just start writing. It is fun! Try it.

    2. Sounds like fun. Thanks for the tip. I can't wait to check it out.

    3. Let me know how it goes, Lark. I am sure you will come up with some great lines. I have been trying to write one haiku a day - just to keep my thoughts tiny!

  2. I love haiku. What a wonderful book! How I love the classics, but I'd have to go to Iowa City for that one.:) Poetry sections here are skimpy.

    1. Kat, you can find many examples of Basho's work online. Try this link: and enjoy!

      Then, write some of your own!