Haiku and the Myth of 5-7-5

We’re haiku amateurs. When we started writing haiku we learned, like everyone else, that haiku was written 5-7-5, that is, to use five syllables on the first line, seven on the second, and five more on the third. But, we also learned soon that this is inaccurate. Here are a few resources that elaborate why, so that you don’t need to wonder anymore whether or not our haiku are real haiku. (They are—they usually suffer from other problems 😬)

Michael Dylan Welch writes in his very useful Haiku Checklist,

How long is your haiku? It’s usually good to write in three lines of about 10 to 17 syllables. In English, haiku don’t have to be in the pattern of 5-7-5 syllables […].

Keiko Imaoka gives a more detailed explanation in Forms in English Haiku:

Japanese haiku have been traditionally composed in 5-7-5 syllables. When poets started writing English haiku in the 1950s, they adopted this 5-7-5 form, thinking it created a similar condition for English-language haiku. This style is what is generally considered “traditional” English haiku.

Over the years, however, most haiku poets in North America have become aware that 17 English syllables convey a great deal more information than 17 Japanese syllables, and have come to write haiku in fewer syllables, most often in three segments that follow a short-long-short pattern without a rigid structure. This style is called by some “free-form” haiku.

The entire article is worth reading, yet notice our particular dilemma:

[…] we are in a bind, a Catch-22. If one wishes to have the brevity and the fragmentary quality of Japanese haiku in English haiku, 17 syllables is too long. On the other hand, if one desires a rigid structure, 11 syllables is too short. One must choose between the two.

Jane Hirshfield, in the The Heart of Haiku, has something to add (or quote) on this, too:

If you have three or four, even five or seven extra syllables but the poem still sounds good, don’t worry about it. But if one syllable stops the tongue, look at it hard.

We may extend this little article to point to more views on “correct” syllable counts in haiku. This one is just to give a first idea that English haiku is not strictly 5-7-5. And that’s why we here on Haiku Haiku Love don’t always use 5-7-5, either. Now you know ✨