For the past month, Heather has led the freshmen and sophomores through a six-week poetry unit. We have read and analyzed many wonderful poems such as E.E. Cummings’ “Chanson Innocente,” Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” and Rupert Brooke’s “Sonnet Reversed.” We have explored concrete poetry (or shaped poetry), open form poetry, and traditional form poetry. The most recent traditional style we have learned about is the haiku.
This form of traditional poetry originates from Japan. The Japanese courtsmen would pass letters in 5-7-5 form for the recipient to respond in 7-7 syllable form. This five line, 5-7-5-7-7 syllable poem they would create is called the tanka. The haiku comes from the longer tanka, taking only the beginning 5-7-5 part. Courtsmen would write about a single moment in nature that expresses something larger than the haiku describes. For example, this haiku about the emotions the speaker felt after a staring eye-to-eye with a snake by Kyoski:
The snake slid away.
But the eyes that glared at me
Remained in the grass.
This poem describes moment after locking eyes with a snake. The glare stays in the speaker’s mind similar to an afterimage. The first line slips off the tongue like a snake slithers smoothly through grass. One of the words that stands out the most is “glared” in the second line. It breaks the silky feeling that the first line gives. The word “glared” portrays an intensity of the moment that cannot come across by using a word like “gazed.” The third line, “remained in the grass,” signifies the impression that the snake left on the speaker. It also could represent the shedding of the snake’s skin that often shows change. If this poem were taken into the context of real life relationships, the snake could represent someone that came in and out of the speaker’s life but left a lasting impression that the speaker cannot forget. There are so many ways readers can interpret this haiku, which is one of the most amazing aspects of this traditional form.
Haikus may be one of the most well-known forms of poetry. The haiku is seemingly straightforward, but as we learned this week, haikus complement Japanese culture’s appreciation for nature and simplicity. We also experienced the difficulty in creating such a short beautiful representation of nature and life relationships. In class, Heather had us collaborate with the person to our right to create a tanka. One person would begin by writing a haiku. We would then pass the poem to the next person for them to respond in two lines written in 7-7 syllable form to complete the tanka. The result of the tankas were astonishing. The thoughtful lines and responses connected so well. Despite the similarities of nature and love, each tanka was entirely unique to themselves.
Writing haikus is much for difficult than throwing words into a form. Haikus are intended to express nearly indescribable emotions and surroundings in only a few syllables.
Xuan Ly, class of 2021