image: Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by ItŎ Jakuchū (1716–1800) National Gallery of Art

About Itō Jakuchū | About the Scrolls | Haiku Instructions | Exhibition Information

Haiku Instructions

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form, with roots more than 1,000 years old. Poet Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) described haiku as "verbal sketching"—little works of art that capture something observed.

Suggestions for writing haiku
A haiku has three short lines. For balance, the second line is typically longer than the other two. Traditional Japanese haiku have three parts with 5, 7, and 5 syllables, making 17 syllables in all. Because the English and Japanese languages are very different in structure, the equivalent length in English would be about 10 to 14 syllables (or 6 to 12 words). The length of a haiku in any language should be one breath long.

Here and now
Haiku attempt to capture one moment in time, based on direct observation of something in front of you. Therefore, they are written in the present tense. Like a snapshot or a quick sketch, a haiku should feel spontaneous and capture the essence of something you have experienced.

Connecting with nature
Haiku is a way of looking at the world, connecting with nature. Writing haiku requires slowing down, looking at what is around you, and appreciating the small moments in life. Haiku should awaken the senses—seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, feeling—and often suggests a particular season.

Sharing with others
Haiku is about letting an object or event touch you and then sharing that experience with others. The poet and reader play a collaborative role. A poet doesn't need to describe everything—haiku should be understated, leaving something for the reader to wonder. A good haiku inspires readers to think about what the poet observed and to experience it through their own imaginations.