Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that typically consists of three lines and is used as a means of expressing emotions and capturing moments of life in a brief and impactful way. Haiku has a concise and minimalist format of verse that often focuses on nature, but can be applied to any subject matter.
During the Edo period, haiku gained popularity among Japanese poets. Matsuo Basho, a renowned haiku master, is credited with popularizing haiku as a standalone form of poetry. Basho was part of a group of poets known as the Haikai no Renga. This group was founded in the 16th century and concerned itself with poetry that was humorous and entertaining. Prior to him haikus were mostly a preface to renga, a collaborative poem, and referred to as hokku. After Basho’s death, other poets continued the haiku tradition, and it became a staple of Japanese literature. In the late 19th century, haiku was introduced to the Western world, where it quickly gained popularity as a form of poetry.
The most basic form of haiku consists of three lines that follow a specific syllable count of 5-7-5 for the first, second, and third lines respectively, coming to 17 syllables – the number original haiku poem has to adhere to. This syllable count is not meant to be limiting, but rather a guiding structure to create a concise and powerful poem. The idea of seasons is of great importance in haiku, and it often employs the use of seasonal words, or kigo, to indicate the season or time of year where the poem takes place. These words can be simple, such as “cherry blossom” for spring or “snow” for winter, or more abstract, such as “uncertainty” for autumn or “emptiness” for winter. The third and the last line of a haiku often contains a surprising or unexpected twist, known as a kireji or cutting word, which shifts the idea or deepens the meaning of the poem. This word can also create a sense of pause or separation between the two parts of the haiku.
Haiku proved to have significant influence on other schools of poetry. One of the major themes is its emphasis on sensory detail. Haiku-inspired poets often use vivid images to describe the world around them, from the sound of a frog jumping into a pond to the feel of a cool breeze on the skin, all through careful phrasing. This might be contrasted with the previously popular themes of inner monologue and emotional component that would be central to the work of poetry. Another impactful change was giving more attention to precise language. Because haiku must convey its message within a limited number of syllables, each word must be carefully chosen for its meaning and impact. Being frugal with words and using them sparingly contributes to a clearer vision of the message. In Western interpretation, one does not necessarily limit oneself to the original 17 syllables.
The scope of impact, however, was not limited to literature alone. Visual artists in the West have always been fascinated by the delicate balance of natural environment and its harmonious coexistence with humanity. Haiku, with its focus on nature and its spiritual essence has provided a rich source of inspiration for artists around the world. One notable example is Vasiliy Kandinsky, who was growing increasingly concerned with the elitism surrounding art and how it was distancing itself from the common folk through unnecessary complexity. He admired haiku’s sheer simplicity and how its core principles could find application in various forms of art, making it more accessible for everyone.
Haiku has also impacted the art of photography. Photographers have used the principles of haiku to create images that capture the essence of a moment. One famous example is Dorothea Lange’s photograph of a migrant mother and her children during the Great Depression. The photograph captures the sadness and desperation of the time and is a perfect example of how photography can be used to convey emotion.
Another noteworthy thing about haiku is that they were an integral part of the samurai’s existence. Samurai culture is known for its stoicism, honour, and respect; therefore, they were expected to maintain their composure in all circumstances and display their honour and courage through action rather than words. One of the many things a samurai had to learn was to compose haikus, which provided an outlet for the samurai to express their innermost thoughts and feelings. They were believed to strengthen their spirits, sharpen their minds and make the hardships of duty more bearable. Samurai poets mostly explored the concept of nature and death in their haiku poetry. Death in Samurai culture was not feared but celebrated. It was seen as an honourable end to a life lived with integrity and courage. Samurai poets wrote about death as an acceptance of the inevitability of life, celebrating life’s brevity and the transience of things, all of these perfectly reflecting the idea of haiku.
In today’s fast-paced world, haiku has become more important than ever. With so much noise and distraction, it can be hard to appreciate the simple beauty of the world around us. Haiku encourages us to slow down and take a moment to cherish the small things in life like the changing of seasons, the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset, and the simple pleasures of a walk in the park. So next time you find yourself idling in the park, give haiku a try. Remember that all you need to do is take your time, have a close look at things and people surrounding you, and sum it up in the frugal manner of 17 syllables.
Do the following statements agree with the information in Reading Passage 1? In boxes 1-4 on your Answer Sheet, write
TRUE if the statement is true according to the passage.
FALSE if the statement contradicts the passage.
NOT GIVEN if there is no information about this in the passage.
1. Haiku has not always been an independent phenomenon
2. Matsuo Basho is credited for having created haiku
3. The purpose of haiku particular syllable pattern is to inspire more evocative poems
4. Haiku rhyming pattern is different from traditional Western poetry
5. In traditional haiku the number of syllables cannot exceed 17
6. The theme of seasonality is pivotal in haiku
Complete the summary below.
Choose NO MORE THAN ONE WORD from the passage for each answer
Haiku appeals to the 7 _____ aspect of human sensation, aiming to recreate visual or audial experiences and at the same time deviating from the previously focal 8 _____ side of human life. Therefore the focus shifted from the internal world to that around us, the material objective reality. Another key feature of the Japanese verses was its strife for simplicity – partially due to its length, pushing the authors to brevity and concision. Stylistic direction of haiku prompted Kandinsky to reassess his approach to art and reduce its 9 _____, ultimately leading to him striving to make it equally 10 _____ for regular people and connoisseurs alike.
Choose the appropriate letters A-C and write them in boxes 11-13 on your answer sheet.
11. Members of the samurai were encouraged to
A Display their courage
B Prioritise deeds over words
C Compose haiku poems
12. Haiku poetry and samurai culture are similar in that they
A Welcome hardship and struggle
B Focus on the theme of nature and death
C See death as a natural stage of life
13. Today haiku hasn’t lost its popularity
A because its message might be more relevant than ever before
B due to how effortless it is to compose
C as it focuses on the environment