What is haiku? (The history of haiku, What are kigo (seasonal words)?)

The history of haiku

Japanese waka poems have a long and vibrant history, and over time have taken on many forms. Among these are tanka, short poems of thirty-one syllables in a five-seven-five-seven-seven structure. Many tanka were written by the aristocrats of the Heian period. The poems collected in the famous anthology Ogura Hyakunin Isshu are tanka.

From tanka came renga, or linked verses, which emerged during the Muromachi period.

Renga have an opening stanza called the hokku, which is arranged in a five-seven-five syllable pattern and is of special importance. Eventually, people began appreciating this initial stanza on its own, and the structure became what is today known as a haiku.

What are kigo (seasonal words)?

Kigo are words that express the seasons.

A haiku poem typically includes a seasonal word in one of the lines. Because a haiku has a limited number of syllables, it can only express a certain amount of meaning. Incorporating words that evoke seasonal feelings shared by many people is a way to add a bit more richness to the short poem.