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An Introduction to Haiku - What is a Kireij?

Geplaatst op 26 januari, 2020 om 4:50

What is a Kereij?

In Japan, kireij are cutting letters (or words) which if used in the right place, force a breath pause. The aim of the pause is to cut the poem into two parts (two thoughts) half dependent on each other thereby creating an unexpected synergy. There is no exact equivalent of kireji in English. In English-language haiku kireji may be represented by punctuation (typically by a dash or an ellipsis). The ellipsis (. . .) provides the longest pause.



cats in love—

the blinds split apart

in the neighbour’s window

—Michael Dylan Welch

In the above haiku the poet chose a dash to create a pause between two distinct images. Yet the images are related through cause and effect. “Cats in love” is a season word for spring. Mating cats make an awful noise. One can imagine everyone in the street looking out of their windows to see what’s going on. Perhaps the commotion woke the neighbor up? How does it make us feel?

first kiss—

the tingling

in my toes

—Corine Timmer

Nominated, NHK Haiku Masters, Original Photo Haiku, April 2018.

in een kommetje

achter de dijk, waait het niet—

samen in het gras


—Corine Timmer


lua do amanhecer

através das gotas do beiral—

os gansos levantam voo

—Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)( Portuguese translation by Joaquim M. Palma)

Kobayashi Issa, Os Animais, publicado por Assírio & Alvim, 2019

In some haiku the pause gives us two clear images in others the pause is more subtle. Though we have the image of the moon and the snail I suspect that in the poem below, by Kobayashi Issa, the second image may be in the poet’s own head. Could he be establishing a metaphorical connection between the snail and his own sexuality? Snails are active at night. As they slide along their path, half of their body is exposed (naked). Perhaps the poet too feels more daring at night, under the light (and influence) of the moon? The word “stripped” is an interesting choice. Instead of punctuation the translator of this poem has chosen to use spacing as a breath or pause. It seems to imitate the shape (or trail) of the snail. What do you think?

under the evening moon

the snail

is stripped to the waist

—Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

Source: The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa (The Ecco Press, 1994)

Not all haiku are deep or complex though. Some haiku poems are simply a “slice of life”, a snapshot. They highlight the spectacular in every day things. We need to notice them though.

fleas, lice,

the horse pissing

near my pillow

—Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

sowing snap peas—

on my hand

a ladybug

—Corine Timmer


thorny quince in bloom—

a birdcall pierces

the morning

—Jude Shrode

First published in Jumble Box, Press Here, September 2017

sultry sun

a last dragon cloud

wisps away

—Hansha Teki

calls of curlews

each further hill

a paler blue

—John Barlow

Commended in the British Haiku Society Awards in 2018 (Judges – Claire Everett and Scott Mason)


“A good haiku can contain and convey a telling moment in just a kernel. A great haiku can implant that kernel in the reader’s or listener’s consciousness, making its moment live on.” —Scott Mason


To make haiku interesting poets often use literary devices such as alliteration (a series of words beginning with the same consonant sound), rhythm, imagery, symbolism, onomatopoeia etc..

Furu ike ya

kawazu tobikomu

mizu no oto


The old pond,

A frog jumps in:



—Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) (Translated by Alan Watts)


mowing the meadow—

a medley of wings

takes to the sky

—Corine Timmer

First published online in Troutswirl, A Sense of Place: Meadow/Field-hearing, The Haiku Foundation, September 26, 2018

snowy Sunday . . .

lingering in the house

music and muffins

—Corine Timmer

 First published in Blithe Spirit, Volume 28, Number 2, May 2018.

Do you remember me mentioning yin-yang? In the natural world opposites are usually interdependent. Yin and yang elements come in pairs, such as the moon and the sun, female and male, dark and light, cold and hot, passive and active, and so on. Here is are a few examples of the use of opposites in haiku.

in a shallow pond

blue heron

in deep focus

—Corine Timmer

First published in Jumble Box, Press Here, September 2017




spring warmth

my brother and I split

a popsicle

—Michelle L. Harvey

First published in Jumble Box, Press Here, September 2017



a snowy path . . .

candles lead to


—Corine Timmer

First published in Jumble Box, Press Here, September 2017



The candle symbolizes light in the darkness of life, especially individual life. Moreover, the candle is warm whereas the snow is cold. This haiku is about enlightenment. The term Buddha literally means enlightened one.


Further reading: An introduction to the five haiku masters


When haiku are primarily about human nature, they are called Senryū. Senryū generally don’t use season words. They are often cynical or darkly humorous. Next time, which will be the last post in this series, we will learn more about Senryū.



Categorieën: haiku

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