|haiku inscribed by a Kenya Saijiki member in Kilindini harbour in Mombasa|
Long before haiku, there was already an established form of poetry in Japanese literature called waka.
Waka consisted of thirty one syllables, divided into five sections: five-seven-five-seven-seven.
Compared to haiku, this was a longer poem, particularly suited for expressing emotions and refined description of nature. As a result, it became very popular among members of the highest social class, the aristocratic courtiers.
They would employ waka in their playful mood as a medium of witty conversation, breaking it into two separate halves
And they would sometimes reverse the order of these two halves to give more independence and
freedom to exercise wit.
Witty verses continued to be written under the name of linked verses called renga throughout 794-1191 (Heian Period). These long sequences of linked verses were written by a number of poets sitting together and writing alternatively, and each poem in a series was linked to the immediately proceeding one, either by witty association or verbal play.
However, there was a danger of these linked verses retrogressing into chaotic confusion or boring monotony. Rules of composition had to be establish and various schools of poets were formed. Two major attributes to the starting piece were considered:
- A reference to the season in which the verse was written
- The existence of a breaking word, kireji.
This is the earliest beginning of haiku poetry because for the first time, the five-seven-five syllabic structure came to be recognized as a poetic unit.
Poets and their disciples continued to write linked verses until they realized that there was something very crucial missing. Poets like Gonsui(1650-1722) and Onitsura (1661-1738) started to make efforts to save poetry from vulgarity. This is the time when master of haiku, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) employed his great genius to lift haiku into the real of perfect poetry.Three essential attributes derived from this history of haiku are evident:
- Five-seven-five syllabic structure (Short-Long-Short lines)
- Season word
It is for the benefit of every Kenyan haijin to get acquainted with the essential traits and attributes of haiku as a literary form.
By Caleb Mutua.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Basho...Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa