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Dating back to as early as the 1800's, Haiku poetry was established by Japanese writers, primarily those who are today called the four great masters of haiku, Basho, Bussan, Issa, and Masaoka Shiki. In our society we primarily look upon Haiku poetry, as the main form of the Japanese style of writing, but this style of writing is much more complex than it may seem.
Deriving from the ancient tanka writing styles, which were mainly court poems written to express the exploration of religious or courtly themes; the haiku was not even a word in the Japanese vocabulary until much later. In tanka, writers would normally use a specific structure of writing poetry with the ordered five lined 5-7-5-7-7 syllable expressions. At the beginning of these Tanka poems was the opening also called the "starting Verse" or Hokku. This is most likely where the term Haiku got its name since the Hokku contained the overall theme of the poem as a whole. Soon the Hokkus were read as a whole separate poem, turning them into the well recognized Haiku poetry. An example would be that from the popular Japenese poet Basho that reads as follows:
Autumn moonlight-
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.
Basho is one of the most well-known and credited Japanese poets to this day, in fact he is so well credited that he has received the title of being one of the "four great masters of haiku". But it was not an easy task for Basho to earn this great title. Basho was born in 1644 and had a quite interesting life while growing up with his samurai family of nine. When he was very young his master (of the feudal service) died, leaving Matsuo "Basho" Manefusa to wander the country of Japan for some years, but these times proved to be productive for it was during these wandering years in his life that lead to his learning of the literature called Haiku. At twenty nine years of age Basho studied and wrote some of his very own literature, those that would later be published in his very first book "Kai-Oi" Over time his family began to recognize Basho's passion for writing and fully supported him, unfortunately their support could not prevent the burning of his cottage in 1682. Although this was a devastation, it once again proved to be good for Basho since this caused him to become a Buddhist monk, where he became very enlightened, giving him all the knowledge he needed to become the literary genius that he is still known as being today.
Following in Basho's footsteps, Taniguchi Busan was ranked second to him as one of the four great masters of Haiku poetry. Busan went through some of the same tragedies as Buson, such as dealing with the death of his two parents when he was very young and, like Basho moving to another part of the country later on. But unlike Basho, Busans main interest was never primarily haiku poetry, in fact he was more known for his painting styles than his writings until much later on when two modern Japanese writers credited him as being a great haiku master. Busan is most likely known as being a great haiku writer because of his history with painting beautiful masterpieces. His painting knowledge shined through with his haiku, making his writings very pictorial. Although Basho conquered both the literal and artistic aspects of his time, he is now best known as an incredible haiku poet.
Born in 1763 in Kashiwabara, Issa became the third member of the "Great Haiku Master" squad. Just as the past two poets, Issa lead an interesting life, dealing with the death of his mother and later living in poverty for twenty years. He later attended a school of Haiku poetry at age 25 where he learned the technique that would lead him to being known as a great writer. Issa's style of writing was very personal and usually had hidden means that one could look into and analize. Some of Issa's more famous works were "The diary At My Fathers Death" and "My Springtime".
The last member of the four masters of haiku would be Masaoka Shiki who is best known for refreshing this ancient style of writing and giving the word Haiku its name. Shiki studied at a college in Tokyo, but dropped out in order to work on a newspaper called Nippon. When he returned to writing poetry, he said the style should be modernized and in turn, did just that and even changed the old word "Hokku" to the term we use today, Haiku.
Although the "Four Masters of Haiku" were very important to the development of the Haiku, Jack Kerouac is the most beneficial to our society since he changed the way we (especially as Americans) look at haiku. Kerouac came up with his own style of writing haikus, making them more frank and real. He thought that, instead of writing a poem with exactly 17 syllables, the haiku could easily be expressed in three short lines. And Kerouac did just that, using dashes for pauses and making his poems very free and spontaneous, just like jazz music he often said.
Following in the previous haiku writer's footsteps, are the many great modern haiku poets of our time such as an'ya, Kay Anderson, Dimitar Anakiev, and Fay Aoyagi. These writers are all haiku poets and have not only written published books of their haiku poetry, but books on varius other topics as well. Many of them are members of a haiku poetry society in order to help keep the art of the haiku alive and strong.