We recently started digging through to look back at where haiku came from. In a beautiful evolution, haiku actually descends from a long lineage of other Japanese poetic forms. And those even came from Chinese poetic influence during the Qin Dynasty.
It was about a century after Bashō’s time in Early Modern Japan that the first haiku poetry started appearing in the western world. Dutchman and trading post commissioner Hendrik Doeff is the first known outsider to try his hand at the artform in the 19th century. However, while stationed at Nagasaki, Doeff wrote his haiku in Japanese.
The form didn’t catch on within English-speaking and European literary communities until the beginning of the 20th century. Previously, some stuffy academics in Great Britain and the U.S. were overly critical of the brevity of the poems, dismissing them as being too basic. They completely overlooked the form’s rich history, its intensely complex restrictions, and how these parts functioned within each poem.
It wasn’t until 1904 when Japanese poet Yone Noguchi implored in “A Proposal to American Poets,” for writers in the U.S. to learn the basics of the form and begin to adapt it into their English writing practice. A generous offering indeed, Noguchi, along with Sadakichi Hartmann, one of the first poets to publish haiku in English, were instrumental in promoting haiku in the western world. It was also around this time that Japanese writers began using haiku as a jumping-off point, more loosely interpreting the classical restrictions.
Stay tuned for a look at how haiku transformed throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Clearly, we’ve done some experimental work ourselves, using the haiku tradition as inspiration for our custom on-the-spot poetry at parties. Soon, we’ll also explore other ways in which haiku has been transformed.
a river’s water
never still, never the same
but it keeps its name