Why no 5-7-5?

I told two wonderful people several weeks ago that I would share with them why I write Haiku outside of the 5-7-5-line count that many English-speaking peoples are accustomed to writing.  I am always a person of my word.  This time I didn’t keep it and I apologize. When you are old and have an ill spell, well one is just a different person.

Photo Credit

Now that I think about it … who am I to discuss anything about haiku? Most who read my haiku know that I am a beginner. Beginner’s mind … blank slate. This is a good thing. I am German, precise, on time; exact … all things that have run my life to an extreme. These things in my humble opinion are the opposite of haiku or haiku mind. I must remind myself that I am 65 and I need not be anywhere for anyone on time again. I am retired.

So here is what I have to say about 5-7-5, haiku and myself and prompts.  Initially when I encountered haiku, probably in the seventies … I thought it was cool.  And hmm, it was apparent at that time the count was the standout aspect of the poem.  I wrote a bit at that time but not enough to matter.  No, I think that I came across haiku again when I was meant to do so … when I was ready to absorb it, when I was ready for haiku-mind.  I am not a religious person but I have long been one for whom the spirit has been important.  I was delighted when I came across NaHaiWriMo on Face Book.  Translated that means National Haiku Writing Month. It was the third place that I had encountered “no 5-7-5.”  For myself the syllable count is about precision.  Yet, haiku is about feeling.  It is about translating what you encounter into how you feel about that encounter.  And it is not that simple.  The whole 5-7-5 is a bit of a misnomer for we as English-speaking peoples count  syllables.  Apparently syllables are not in use in the Japanese language.  Instead they have sounds, yet in haiku not even “sounds” is the correct term for the count found in Japanese haiku.

Does this sound terribly confusing?  Especially, since I know not of what I speak?  Of course it does.  I can tell you however that there is a haiku mind and there is a way of haiku.  I have a lot of books on haiku, for having the Germanic personality that I have, I set out initially to study haiku. Instead, I have chosen to read the haiku of the ancients and of a few moderns.  I seem to be drawn to Japanese forms of poetry.  So, I like The Manyosho and I read Issa, Buson and Basho.  I also read of their lives for their lives formed their poetry.

While ill during February and March I lost all concentration, I could not write.  I could not comment upon the works of others but I could make myself write one haiku a day for the most part.  And they weren’t good.  But that is OK for they represented a discipline.  And within the writing I came closer to haiku mind.

So I will not recommend any of my many books.  Instead I shall steer you toward several writers of haiku with whom I have connected online for they “have it” in my opinion.  But, keep in mind that someone who “has it” for me might not have it for you.  Within their “having it” comes from them, a sense haiku mind. This collective sense bears no judgment, no criticism, just a sense of true connection with their worlds and thus emanates from them collectively a sense of peacefulness. Following are the blogs of which I speak:


Shiteki Na Usagi

Blue Willow Haiku World

Basho Revisited

Five Reflections


I am sure that I have forgotten someone.  Don’t be insulted.  I have “old mind” and I am working on haiku mind.

7 thoughts on “Why no 5-7-5?

  1. Enjoyed thinking through this with you. I’m not convinced I “have it” either, but I’ll definitely agree that we are “finding it” together. May we live in each moment, fully within its boundaries.

    • Yousei thank you for your comments. You … your haiku have been so “on target” at a particular time in my life (when ill). They held me and they were not “too much.” I believe that you are quite young (photo) so where you are in haiku mind was really cool for me.

      • You are a dear, sweet flatterer. I’m sure to you I must be on the young side. To me, everything looks like wisdom (you) or foolishness (younger). I’m hovering at 48. My children were stunned to discover it. Reality and mortality in one number. I’m happy we can grow as writers together.

  2. I think you did a wonderful job! I enjoy reading your work too. I am humbled by your comments.

    Below is a comment I made on my blog that might help some.

    Lee Gurga in his book “Haiku: A poet’s guide” explains it thusly.

    “‘Japanese Syllables’ are not syllables at all in our sense of the word. Japanese syllables are uniformly short, differing considerably in length from syllables in English, so it might be better to think of them as ‘sounds’ rather than syllables… These Japanese sounds consist of a either s single vowel sound, a combination of a consonant followed by a vowel, or a single consonant.
    These syllables are ALL (emphasis mine) about the same length as the syllable ‘be’ in English.”

    As we know in English there are short words with one syllable such as “be” but then there are longer words too.

    Gurga goes on to say “the average Japanese haiku contains only 5-6 words, while the average 17 syllable haiku in English has 12 or more.”

    Gurga and other haiku editors suggest that if you want to count syllables then you must do it as the Japanese do. For example the word haiku is counted as ha-i-ku or 3 syllables not hai-ku as it is counted in English. A 17 syllable haiku in English usually comes across as wordy.

    That said I like the “one breath” rule. Take a breath, say your haiku, if you can say it slowly in one breath then you have properly used brevity.

    I apologize for the long winded response I hope this has helped. I know in writing this I have furthered my understanding.


    • No … wonderful response, helpful and not too wordy. And thank you. Everything that I have read of yours … I have felt. The capacity to feel deeply must be allowed to happen. I am not speaking of sentimentality but sort of like: opening the heart, getting yourself out of the way and therefore being able to feel what is being said by another.

      And of course … i do believe that it has something to do with Buddha and Buddha ways.

      Your comments are most helpful. The first part I have read about and understand. The “one breath rule” I needed reminding of, so again thank you. I am so pleased to have come across your work at this time in my life … and each of those whom I have mentioned for it was perfect timing.

      I am really meant to quell this Germanic personality that I have … my husband calls me his “little warrior” and coming to haiku now happens to be the answer.

  3. My dear, you are still recovering from your illness–no apology necessary! I believe you are right that haiku is a way of being–it’s a mindset. I’ve been doing some reading and ordered the book by Lee Gurga that fiercebuddhist mentions. I also found a wonderful website, Shadow Poetry, that helps explain haiku (and other forms). I’m not very good at haiku but how do we learn? Practice!! And reading the masters such as you are doing is a wonderful idea! Understanding the sounds/syllables/English version is not easy. We can all practice together and no one is going to think we’re old fools 🙂 I love the idea of us walking this road together too. Thank you Raven!

  4. Thank you, ‘Raven’ for your explanation and direction to seek more …. as well as the wonderful comments left which gives more direction …

    Much to ponder about it all … but I find this style very interesting and once I feel I have “handle” enough – I will give it a serious try … I believe practice does make perfect … but one has to take the first step! 😀

    It is a good ritual and form of meditation ~~ Namaste for a blessed Sunday and continue sending healing energy to you, dear one!

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