History of Haiku

Essay by RyankirklandHigh School, 11th gradeA-, May 2004

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In Japan, short poems have a long history. The earliest Japanese poetry such as that of the Manyoshu, written in 759 A.D., includes stirring narrative, dramatic and short lyrical poems which scholars believe were originally written as part of the pre-Buddhist or early Shinto ceremonial rituals (Haiku). This anthology includes anonymous songs and prayers designed to celebrate and pacify the gods, prayers for safe voyages, formal eulogies on the death of an Emperor or Empress and courting, marriage, planting and harvesting rituals.

The 5 syllable, 7 syllable, 5 syllable haiku has evolved and been reinvented many times over the centuries. One such form is the 31 syllable waka composed of five 5-7-5-7-7 syllable phrases. Developed as the early imperial court of the late eighth century consolidated cultural, social and political forms, the waka took its place as one of the important regularized poetic forms of the period. Within imperial circles, minor officials and scribes gained recognition as poem-providers and word specialists due to their ability to compose waka (Haiku).

Nevertheless, early Japanese poetry went beyond official usage. In the 14th century, an intellectual game developed where one person would write the first half

of a waka-like poem, and another would complete it, adding the two 7-syllable stanzas.As many as four people took part in composing such poetry in what developed as a serious poetic form, with many complicated rules to ensure that the elegant court-poetry diction and aesthetic ideals were maintained.

However, in large social gatherings where Japanese rice wine, or sake, was often served, participants became inebriated and started writing haikai, comic linked verse, which ignored many of the rules and allowed any subject matter at all, from the truly crude and erotic to pure slapstick, daffy comedy.

According to Dr. Kerkham, it was this lower-level poetic form...