Tag Archives: haiku

Some haiku

The Japanese find English haiku silly and trivial. English, being so much terser than Japanese, makes writing haiku infinitely easier, and what is worse, totally denies the original aesthetic. Anyway, I have written about this before, here, if you are interested; I will not belabor the topic now.

Below are a few haiku that are more in tune with the original ideal:

roses are not
the symbols of
love; thorns are.

This came to me on a recent bike ride, as I contemplated the trials of faith and love.

— • —

hearts seek
unity; minds seek

There is no reference to nature is this haiku, but still, I believe it works. It was formulated on the same ride but is actually close to a quote spoken to me earlier by a friend. It beautifully sums up the truth that humble love seeks harmony and joy, but that the ego-driven mind drives division and wants to be recognized for its uniqueness. Sadly, we live in a world of ego-driven minds.

— • —

post-ride, i
disdained salt water;
charlie horse.

OK, so this poem has no esthetics to speak of. But it is humorous and sums up what happened to me after my ride. It was a brutally hot day and I should have known to increase my electrolytes once I was done. Believe me, I paid the price.

Thank you for reading Some haiku. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Cranston, RI. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Photograph, poem, and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Work 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed is © John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The image is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.


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For Phil’s dad


Sitting in the chair
Replacing death with hope
A chemo I.V.


Phil Wilke is a dear friend of mine from when I lived in Kansas. And while, sadly, my move to New England has put much mileage between us, no distance has grown to separate us…he is still as dear to me now as he was then.

Phil is wonderfully intelligent, wise, kind, generous and one of the funniest people I have ever met. It was with great sadness that I learned from him recently that his father was ill with cancer. (In fact, I wrote The long wait after hearing about it.)

Although Phil is a journalist and a great prose writer, he has used the terseness of haiku to express himself during the difficult times his family is facing. I am honored to share one of these haiku  with you. I hope you like it and I look forward to your comments.


Comments © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. Poem © 2014 by Phil Wilke; all rights reserved. Oddly enough—for me, anyway—it is used by permission of the author.


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Writing Haiku With a Friend

Haiku are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense;

This came from a very funny article on bathroom graffiti that I saw on Buzzfeed. I liked it so much I posted it on Facebook  It garnered many likes and a few shares, but then, from Phil Wilke, one my best friends and a truly wonderful and sweet guy (with a wicked sense of humor) came this reply:

Writing a haiku
an exercise in restraint
The walrus was Paul

Well, of course, then the challenge was on and I responded with:

The question remains
Did she break up the Beatles?
Look, a butterfly!

To which Phil’s response was:

Why couldn’t Yoko
have met Baader-Meinhof Gang
and broken them up?

Which, to be honest, could not be beaten as a haiku. But I had to try…

Maybe she met them!
Happiness is a Warm Gun
Some guy she knew sang…

And after which he posted a picture of himself in a kilt with a scantily clad, beautiful young lady at some festival or another and the topic veered off in a dozen other directions, as it should.

But in the end, I was left thinking: to friends! May God bless them!

Thank you for reading Writing Haiku With a Friend. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.


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as sun sets
moon bares witness the hour;
chill earth grins.

I love well written haiku; thus I am often frustrated with the frivolous and imprecise way they are developed in English. The web sites available on the Internet with pages of haiku-like poems written as odes to the luncheon meat Spam attest to that. People tend to think that all they have to do is write verse in 5-7-5 syllables and they have a haiku. Not so. This poem was my first attempt at a serious haiku.

First of all, breath has a kigo, a defined word or phrase that symbolizes or implies the season of the poem. It also has a kireji, or cutting word—in this case ‘hour;’. It separates the stream of thought in the poem and builds a parallel between its two halves.

breath does not conform to the 5-7-5 syllable convention for a reason: this is not exactly the pattern which truly defines a haiku, because it does not allow for the brevity of thought that is the essence of the original style.

First of all, there is the fact that English is a terser language than Japanese. The English word ‘milk’, for example, has one syllable; in Japanese it has three syllables.

Moreover, in Japanese, a haiku calls for a structure of 5-7-5 on. An on is similar to a syllable but they are not the same thing. Long vowels and double consonants each count as double on and the letter ‘n’ at the end of a word counts as one on also. In fact the word ‘on‘ itself (pronounced ‘oh’ and then with a drawn out nasally ‘n’) counts as two on. Or consider this example: in English the word ‘delay’ counts as two syllables; in Japanese this would be three on because of the long ‘a’ sound.

By some standards, the recommend length of an English poem, to achieve the equivalent effect of Japanese—and thereby overcome the natural terseness of English and the effect of counting on—is twelve English syllables; usually, but not necessarily, in a 3-6-3 pattern. And while I am not so rigid as to suggest this has to be a ‘rule’, I do believe that limiting the syllables by some amount for an English haiku does give it more gravitas.

But if terseness is one of the issues that make English haiku differ from Japanese haiku, content is the main one. In Japan, haiku are deep, emotionally vibrant poems. Consider, for example the haiku old pond written by Japan’s greatest haiku poet, the 18th century poet Bashō, and perhaps the most well known Japanese haiku of all time. A word by word translation is:

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

An alternate translation, supplied by Wikipedia, which preserves the syllable count in English at the cost of taking greater liberty with the sense is:

at the age old pond
a frog leaps into water
a deep resonance

In Japan, haiku are not throw away jokes. They are serious poems dealing with serious issues and while I am opening myself to criticism as being a purist, I think that is what they should remain, independent of what language they are written in.

Thank you very much for reading breath. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.


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