Welcome to episode 35 of the Podcast. Today, I’m looking at the haiku technique of riddles.We’ll pay a visit to one of our haiku community. We shall be meeting Agus Maulana Sunjaya, who has written a tranquil haiku for us.


Riddles are an ancient literary device. Used in sagas, folktales, stories, novels and of course poetry, which includes our area of interest, the haiku.

Let’s enjoy a riddle haiku from the Japanese tradition: a poem by Arakida Moritake who was writing in the period 1473-1549

a fallen blossom
returning to the bough, I thought —
but no, a butterfly.
© Arakida Moritake (1473-1549) (Tr. Steven D. Carter) (1)

or this one by Buson, who lived from 1716 to 1784

so beautiful
after the late autumn storm —
red peppers
Buson (2)

Now, As you know I like a bit of structure to be able to compose haiku. When I was preparing for this podcast I came across a very useful article by Stephen Addiss about riddle haiku (2): in which he says that in a riddle haiku “the first two lines or segments set up a kind of question, usually indirect so that it occurs in the reader’s mind rather than explicitly in the poem. The final segment of the haiku then functions as an answer, preferably with a surprise that also seems “just right.”

Lee Gurga (3)

from house
to barn:
the milky way

Stephen Addiss: (2)

morning mirror—
the stranger becomes

I think this methodology described by Stephen Addiss is a simple one for beginners to create their riddle haiku. That’s not to say that haiku created in this way have to be simple, they can be superb haiku as I hope I’ve illustrated.

Jane Reichhold (4) suggests that “the trick is to state the riddle in as puzzling terms as possible. What can one say that the reader cannot figure out the answer?”

The thing to be careful with when using Jane’s methodology is not to create too wide a gap between the fragment and the phrase. As with all haiku there has to be a relationship between the two, which while creating the puzzle, will make sense.

As in this poem by Jane Reichhold (4)

where did they go?
these flowers on a path
by summer’s passing

or this by Lee Richmond (5)

before today
where did he come from

Or one by Denise Coney  (5)

after the storm
I cannot find
The snowman’s eyes

If you’ve listened to the podcast before you’ll know that I often consult with Alan Summers (6) on the topics that I’m covering. This week I asked him for some thoughts and he took a topic to another level with his haiku:

night of small colour
a part of the underworld
becomes one heron (7)

And I’d like to share his explanation of his riddle haiku with you:
“here we have a haiku that appears to be a riddle, and alludes to the ancient Greek tale of the underworld as well.”

“What is a night of small colour? How is it part of the underworld?” What is the connection with the Heron?

“The first two lines show how utterly dark this particular night is. Bereft of our accustomed light pollution, we see both how dark it is,” with just the stars and maybe the moon to light our way and how the night of small colour can create a single heron in our psyche.

I think it will be quite some time before I personally can create a riddle haiku of such simple complexity.

How did I get on this week trying to write using the technique of riddle haiku?
To be very honest with you I feared that I would have absolutely nothing to offer you this week.

At the very last minute I was inspired to write by a wildfire that I witnessed in the south of Spain last week. Night was falling and I saw the flames beginning to take hold of the vegetation. It was a windy night, the wind as you would expect coming off the sea and driving the fire a little bit further away from where I was, close to the beach. I watched as the flames grew higher and consumed what I thought was quite a large amount of land. Talking to other people, people who lived in the area, they told me that some years ago wildfire had consumed a huge amount of land between Malaga and Marbella. Indeed one of the people I spoke to had photos of the fire, taken at night, the sort of night that Alan has just been describing in his haiku. The flames were truly terrifying, and yet the vegetation had regrown and my question was how?  I’ve spent some time trying to express this as a riddle haiku:

a miracle?
after the wildfire
a green shoot

a first shoot
visible in the ash
how do you grow?

the fire
destroys all before it
and yet – a seed

I’m still working on them. I think I have something, a seed of an idea that might come to something in the future.

Let’s head off to Indonesia and meet Agus, another scientist, a teacher of maths and physics, who writes for us from the rural city of Tangerang, Indonesia. Agus enjoys haiku “because of its simplicity and the huge meaning behind the words.

It is so natural so you don’t have to try to find lovely words to write. Just write what you see, what you taste, what you hear, or what you smell in the daily words:” And yet, “A good haiku hides a hidden messages behind the words, makes us think to find out the connection between two images. Sometimes we need to contemplate to find out what lies behind the words.”

Let’s hear from him:

almost midnight
only the koi
and cicada, too

What does this make you think of? For me,  it’s a very still summer night where the only sound is the koi coming up for breath in the pond and the chirping of the cicadas. It’s a very calming piece of work.

Thank you so much for ending a podcast with such a beautiful piece of work. I know we will hear more from you in the future and I’m looking forward to it.

Next week we are going to change the format of the podcast. If you remember I asked for haiku and senryu using the topic, women. I’m delighted to say I have lots of wonderful haiku written by or written about women which I’ll be featuring next week.

See you next week.

  1. Carpe Diem Haiku Writing Techniques #13 Riddle
  2. Riddle Haiku by Stephen Addiss
  3. Lee Gurga: In and out of Fog 1997
  4. Jane Reichhold Writing and enjoying Haiku: A hands on guide.
  5. Bruce Ross editor: Haiku moment. An anthology of contemporary North American haiku.
  6. Alan Summers: Call of the Page  or his blog, area17
  7. Alan Summers: Publication Credit: Modern Haiku Vol. 45.2Summer 2014
Week 35: The riddle of the wildfire