Length (Syllable and Line)

Length (Syllable and Line)

A Lesson by Dinesh Sairam

Breaking the taboo about the infamous 5-7-5 Syllable and 3 Line format of Haiku.


If you are new to Haiku poetry, you maybe more or less feeling like this:

writing a haiku
in seventeen syllables
is very diffic'
John Cooper Clarke.

It is customary for new writers of Haiku to presume the 5-7-5 (17) syllable limit and the 3-line format. This is partly true and necessary. The 17-syllable 3-line format came originally from Japanese, where a syllable is called an 'On'. Traditional Japanese Haikus strictly maintain 5-7-5 Onjis in 3 lines.

However, as Haiku progressed through the west, many post-modern writers began tackling this 'rigidity'. Linguistic researchers have reported that the Japanese 5-7-5 is equal to 3-5-3 or 3-4-3 in English. Fortunately or unfortunately, this did not become the rule of English Haikus. But something else happened. With the 5-7-5 taboo already broken, writers began to claim that syllable and line limits were a mere sham.

This was reflected in many ways, but mainly in the U.S. "Dog Haikus" (Relating to the existing poetry format "Doggerel"):

sometimes there is so
much beauty in the world we
forget our popcorn
A film review for "American Beauty".

Apparently, after this 'reform', English Haikus became a thing of fun for writers and poets alike- something like the prominent 'abab' scheme of formal poetry. There are even machines that can 'generate' Haikus (Talk about inspiration)! It is good to have broken the syllable limit, but not certainly so to have horrendous, run-of-the-mill Haikus. But there's good and bad for everything. Here's a nice 'Haiku' that doesn't follow the syllable and line limits:

steady rain
it seems all summer
not a single butterfly
has come
to the buddleia
Brian Tasker.
While it may be hard to figure out the perfect format for English Haikus, it's acceptable to set a maximum limit of 5-7-5 (Minimum limit of 3-4-3) syllables and 5 lines (3 Minimum). Even so, including Kiru and Kigo is very essential (As in Brian Tasker's Haiku), for they are the life-blood of Haikus in any language whatsoever. 

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Posted 3 Years Ago

Thank you for explaining this! Syllables and format have caused me great confusion.
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Dinesh Sairam
Dinesh Sairam

Tiruchirappalli, Tamilnadu, India

Follow @DineshThePoet An aspiring poet from the shady regions of Southern India. Inspired by the capital-G Great poets like William Shakespeare, Matuso Basho, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Willia..