Welcome back to the Haiku Pea podcast. May I wish you a Happy year, one which brings you everything you are looking forward too and perhaps a bit more too.

This is episode 1 of the second series. This year there are lots of topics to explore and a special podcast every month featuring the work of our community. You can check out the topics on the submissions page, but if you have something not covered there and would like to submit something totally different, feel free to do so. Contacts on the poetrypea.com website.

This week a little dip into haiku history and what was going on poetically as the haiku came into being.

My interest was piqued by an article by Alan Summers. “Why Haiku is different and Basho never wrote them in English” I recommend it as an interesting read.(1)

Speaking of whom, he had a very pleasing haiku featured in the Haiku Foundations Per Diem on Boxing day:

crowded train a dozen yellows crackle

Before I continue with a bit of history I want to ask for a little bit of help. I wrote this haiku (unedited and raw at the moment). My question to you would be, does it work in this incarnation? Does it stimulate your mind to imagine what I am possibly talking about or is it too ethereal?

white sun—
what a difference a hill makes
orange sun

Back to history.

I recorded a podcast on Shiki, Season 1, episode 21 in which I really focused in on his development of the idea of shasei. In this episode I’d like to think about the origin of haiku as we know it today and the western poetry scene at the time of Shiki. Who was instrumental in advancing the idea of the haiku we know today.

Generally speaking there are four acknowledged masters of haiku.

Basho(1644 – 1694)
Buson(1716 – 1784)
Issa (I763 – 1827)
Shiki. (1867 – 1902)

In reality the first three poets did not write haiku as we know it today. They would have been participating in the writing of linked verse.

For example Basho wrote this, which we’re are familiar with in its various translations, this one is by Adam L Kern (2)

old pond!
a frog plunges into

I don’t know about you but I always think of this in isolation, as a haiku, but actually it was composed as a linked verse and here were have the response.

on young leaves of rush
hangs a spider’s web (2)

Often when we read haiku composed pre Shiki and for a while after his death, (because the switch was not immediate) we are actually reading the first stanza of a linked verse, a hokku.

Here is a hokku from the Washbasin Sequence, the first of thirty six stanzas which appeared in Sarumino in 1691: (2)

It was written by Bonchō translated by Adam L Kern

the washbasin’s
drip-dripping gives way to
crickets chirping

What Shiki, who lived during the years 1865 to 1902 “effectively did was to give this word” haiku “a special role, that of replacing the word “hokku” (opening stanza) to sever it from the rest of renga” linked verse “and to make it a genre of modern “literature” in its own right.” (3)

Why? Well to get some idea, let’s think about what was happening in Japan in Shiki’s time. It was opening itself up to the west. In that process Shiki did read western philosophy but he surely read western poetry of the time. Poetry that was created by a single poet and that could stand alone, on it’s own merit. Hence his development of the haiku, a short poem, similar to the hokku except that it was not linked to verses written by others.

To get an idea of what his contemporaries in the west were writing please read the following poems written by poets born in the same year as Shiki:

“The Lake Isle of Inisfree” by W B Yeats, written in 1888 (4)


“If” by Rudyard Kipling,  written around 1896 (4)


This was the haiku I gave you earlier.

white sun—
what a difference a hill makes
orange sun

Did it mean something to you or does it need an explanation?

The explanation: I was driving along the bottom of the hill on which I live. It was early morning and the mist was thick. The sun was doing its best to shine, but looked quite white through the fog. However as I drove up the hill I got above the cloud base and there it was, in all it’s glory a beautiful orange sun.

I hope you enjoyed my deviation from haiku.

Next time I am doing a podcast special, featuring many of the community and the topic is childhood.

Thanks for listening and I look forward to talking to you again in a couple of weeks.

  1. Alan Summers:  Why Haiku is different and Basho never wrote them in English
  2. The penguin book of haiku edited by Adam L Kern
  3. Susumu Takiguchi: The importance of a sense of humour in haiku
  4. The Nation’s Favourite poems a BBC book
Series 2: Episode 1: When is a haiku not a haiku?

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