Poem of the Month

Haiku Poems | Matsuo Bashō

haiku poems by matsuo basho poem of the month

The old pond-
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

Bashō, translated by Robert Hass

A cicada shell;
it sang itself
    utterly away.

Bashō, translated by R.H. Blyth

A bee
staggers out
    of the peony.

Basho, translated by Robert Hass

A hill without a name
Veiled in morning mist.

The beginning of autumn:
Sea and emerald paddy
Both the same green.

The winds of autumn
Blow: yet still green
The chestnut husks.

A flash of lightning:
Into the gloom
Goes the heron’s cry.

Bashō, translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite

Diaries of imagery

Matsuo Bashō was a 17th-century Japanese poet. It is said that he discovered his love for literature while working in service for the son of a local lord. He was taught how to write in poetic forms and continued to learn and develop his creativity through poetry. Bashō travelled across Japan most of his life. He studied Chinese poetry and Taoism alongside a prolific poet named Kigin.

Bashō taught and wrote poetry across decades, edited and published several anthologies, many of which included his own works which would make up his most famous collections. In around 1682, while partaking in long journeys across the country entirely on foot, Bashō created a new poetic form called the ‘haibun’. The haibun integrates alternating verse between haiku and prose, and the theme traces a journey. This poetic form could be seen as a diary of imagery, as it tells of his travels with impressive visual attention. Bashō’s best-known collections include The Knapsack Notebook and Sarashina Travelogue, both published in 1688.

Read Matsuo Bashō

Capturing the natural world

portrait of matsuo basho by Hokusai

Spending lots of time among his fellow contemporary writers and literary academics, Bashō began to write ‘haikai no renga’, a collaborative style of poetry in which a poet writes a verse each, but each verse is linked by one image, word, or symbol taken from the previous verse. The opening verse of the renga is a ‘hokku’, which is what gave birth to the ‘haiku’; a verse which is a short, standalone poem, capturing visual imagery. It became highly popular with poets at the time, and Bashō’s contribution made significant waves in the movement.

The traditional haiku has two images from a scene in the first and second lines, using the third to connect these two images. Often the final line is a collision of the images juxtapose, evidencing nature’s solitude against nature’s intensity and unpredictability. However, sometimes the connection is peaceful and emanates the calm of the natural world.

Haiku poems in the Japanese language follows the syllable count of 5/7/5 per line. This is often lost in translation when some translators choose to favour the meaning over structure, however, some prefer to sacrifice slight meaning in favour of keeping the traditional form. It is always good to read different styles of translations when exploring literature from other languages. Discover a huge range of haiku and haiku inspired writi

Check out more Japanese poetry, or explore our entire collection of poetry throughout the ages, from 17th-century poets like Matsuo Bashō to young contemporaries of our time like Amanda Gorman.

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What do you think of these haiku poems by Matsuo Bashō? Have you read any more Japanese poetry? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Reply Peter Herbert April 21, 2021 at 6:32 am

    Enjoying the haiku……… This is the only one that sticks in my mind like an ear worm. I cannot remember where I first read it.
    ‘ Under the helmet
    empty now
    a cricket.

  • Reply Joan Drummond April 25, 2021 at 9:52 am

    My daughter sent me a short text message;
    We’ve been out
    Ravi fell out of a tree
    The river has flooded.

    In Japanese this might be:
    Ravi kikara ochi
    Kawa ahure

    Ravi has his very own Haiku!

    • Reply Jonella Vidal May 4, 2021 at 12:07 pm

      This is lovely!
      Thank you for sharing.

      Happy reading!
      Jonella 🙂

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