Ultra-Short Poems

2017-10-08

Reading a book on Matsuo Bashō has renewed my interest in ultra-short poems. The best-known form here is haiku, which in Japanese consists of three sections of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. The most famous haiku is probably this one written by Bashō in 1686:

furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

It's often translated as something like this:

ancient pond
a frog jumps in
water's sound

Because English has many short words (compare "frog" to "kawazu" or "jumps in" to "tobikomu"), it's possible to write even more concise poems in English than in most other languages. Although I never thought I'd consider haiku to be wordy, compare a few 5-7-5 verses to a few 3-4-3 verses:

thundering waters
at this distance only seen
make a cooling mist

vs.

see the mist?
waters thunder
far away

Or:

cicadas buzzing
in well-watered cottonwoods
down in the ravine

vs.

down below
cicadas buzz
in the trees

Or:

in this early snow
faded flowers of summer
plastered on the ground

vs.

early snow
summer blossoms
plastered ground

Or this one (appropriate for my collection of urban haiku):

a couple huddles
with a single umbrella
waiting for the bus

vs.

he and she
one umbrella
bus stop bench

I rather like the even more concise, evocative 3-4-3 format with its mere 10 syllables. I'm not sure if it has a name, but "toku" is a possibility (I think that would be Japanese for "ten-verse", but I've never studied Japanese so I'm only guessing).

Oh, and mimicking Bashō here is a "toku" on Henry David Thoreau:

Walden pond
Thoreau jumps in
water's sound

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