Do you get caught reminiscing with moths in the closet when you write haibun poems? Put them mothballs away and read this simple tutorial on how to write haibun poetry, and you’ll be mastering the art of combining prose and haiku in five minutes flat!
What Is Haibun Poetry?
Haibun poetry is the culmination of prose poetry and haiku (if you want to learn more about haiku, please click here). Unlike traditional poetry, the haibun utilizes descriptive imagery in the form of prose that evokes a sensory experience for the reader, before closing the poem with a haiku.
The first recorded use of the word “haibun” came from the 17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho. He popularized the term by incorporating poetry into his travel journals. Which is why haibun is considered a journey filled experience for the reader today.
What Are the Main Characteristics of a Haibun Poem?
Subject matter for a haibun poem varies, however, the prose section is often dedicated to the unfolding of a scene (a memory, a particular landscape, or special moment). The prose section often consists of a few brief paragraphs written in an imagistic style (known as haikai), and normally portrays the selected scene in an objective manner. Which is why most haibun poems are written in first-person or third-person perspective.
The closing haiku appears at the end of the composition, though sometimes it can be placed in the middle, and is a thematic conversation with the prose section. It either serves as a closing statement, juxtaposition between ideas, or a philosophical innuendo that deepens the meaning of the poem.
Here Are Some Examples of Haibun
Let’s Review Really Quick (And Some Final Notes)
In his epic journey to Japan, Basho developed a form guideline in order to explore further into the aware (pronounced ah-WAR-ay) spirit of haiku. That is, haibun poetry isn't about capturing the mundane—it requires a sense of aware that conveys longing, sorrow, or immediate sympathy into certain objects.
The poet Kimiko Hahn once noted that Bashō himself criticized works that did not have a palpable sense of aware, stating “anyone can keep a diary with such entries as 'On this day it rained...in the afternoon it cleared...at that place is a pine...at this place flows a river called Such-and-such'; but unless sights are truly remarkable, they shouldn't be mentioned at all.” So remember to go beyond simplicity when writing your haibuns.
Follow these four simple things and you’ll never have to worry.
Avoid writing in the personal (that is, using personal pronouns) & look “outside” of yourself.
Concentrate on sensory details.
Use some kind of seasonal word or phrase that alludes to a season.
Throw in a “turn,” or a sudden change of heart somewhere to create excitement.
Here's A Haibun That I've Written
Title: Koi No Yokan
A haibun inspired by Suchita Senthil Kumar & The Deftones
Your serpent eyes pierce into my soul, lulling my heart into circadian rhythm. The sway, the sway, the sway. That seesaw emotion that sculpts haru from cocoons, and thrusts forth the rise of cherry blossom wings. A collision course of shapes and colours are all I see. The kaleidoscopic tunnel vision of absinthe-laced fields and strawberry-filled milky ways. An ensanguined fire that deepens as your optical illusions weld into me. And the sway, the sway, the sway takes me over. Oh, how you mesmerise! Spinning the Earth ‘round and ‘round the spatial curvatures of my backward spine. Or how your forked-tongue detaches reality from the inside out – a shedding of skin – leaving behind scar tissue from your venomous bite. And the sway, the sway, the sway. How it swelters like a dying sun upon my relinquished body, leaving behind the prickling cold sweats of numbness and desire. If this endless coil is to be our towa, then entwined we dream into the unknown. You, my serpentine Jezebel and I, your obedient Ophiuchus. Rogue planets set adrift this trichiliocosm of unconditional sway, sway, sway.
Serpent, lull my heart
in that haru sway sway sway
entwined in the stars
¹Hebi yo, watashi no kokoro o ochitsuka sete
ano haru de sway sway sway
hoshi ni karamu
¹Japanese translation of the written haiku using Google Translate.
Please consider submitting any haibuns that you may write to The Poetry Cove's forum. We are always looking for fresh & original work to read. Also, if you'd like your poem to be shared in the stories section of our Instagram page, please use #poetrycove for a chance to be highlighted.