How to Write Haiku

What Makes a Good Haiku?

by Margaret Coats

The required 5-7-5 syllable form alone does not make a haiku. A good haiku

⦁ presents an observation of nature, or of human activities in nature
⦁ uses present tense (“goes” or “going,” not “went” or “has gone”)
⦁ has a seasonal word or image, known in Japanese as a “kigo”
⦁ has two parts or two images or two aspects
⦁ offers an intriguing insight that arises from interaction of the two parts

Below are examples of good haiku, chosen from runners-up and other entries last year. They fulfill ALL the above haiku requirements, but are grouped to allow for easy discussion of one requirement at a time, in the paragraph that follows each group. Information and advice about the seasonal requirement, including a link to a kigo list, with an analysis of last year’s winner, can be found HERE. A more detailed article on haiku by G.M.H. Thompson is HERE.


The 17 Syllables in English

These first four haiku show how poets writing in English can naturalize the required Japanese syllabic form by using features of English poetry, including rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration. These things are neither required nor specially favored in this competition. However, they add beauty to the poem and demonstrate the poet’s skill with language.


Dark branches stripped bare
cold and sad, quite unaware
stirrings down below

―Linette Eloff


Snow falls through the night
Dressing farm and field in white—
Dazzling dawn in sight!

―Martin Rizley


one lone(ly) mallard
ignored by his own echo
quacks again, hoping

―James Ripley


Curious concert—
crickets croon to a cornfield
of indifferent ears

―Martin Elster


Linette Eloff captures late winter in three lines appropriately rhymed and metered. The third line, with the same number of syllables as the first, has more word accents or stresses. It thus has more of the deep “stirrings” it mentions—and it breaks away from the “bare”/ “unaware” rhyme and tone of the other lines. Contrast Martin Rizley’s winter haiku, which exhibits regular English rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration in all three lines. These suit the exuberant tone of his poem. James Ripley uses another tactic. His parentheses in the word “lone(ly)” emphasize the meaning he can add to his first line with the required fifth syllable. The quacking mallard is both “lone” (solitary) and “lonely” (forlorn). Martin Elster makes every syllable count, accompanying his farm concert with both alliteration from the noisy crickets, and a pun on the indifferent ears of corn in the audience.


Artistry of the Present Tense


end of the summer—
the calm surface of a lake
absorbs the twilight.

―Marek Kozubek


Looming laden clouds
Blanket Bombay’s bustling streets
And storms paint the sky

―Stuti Sinha


taste of morning tea
the delicate ray of sun
through an icicle

―Daniela Misso


The group above shows varied artistry employing the required present tense. Marek Kozubek uses a single present tense verb (“absorbs”) to describe minimal action, but it manages to fill his noiseless scene with light and color. Stuti Sinha’s poem brims with action: present tense verbs “blanket” and “paint,” present participles “looming” and “bustling,” along with the past participle “laden,” acceptable in haiku because used as an adjective. These combine to build up a picture of increasingly wild weather over a busy city. In Daniela Misso’s haiku, there are no verbs at all. Present tense is presumed in the action of a human observer who notices the sunlit icicle while sipping tea.


The Two-Part Haiku


black skyscrapers scratch
at something beyond the gray
as white flakes drift down

―Spencer Green


As winter draws near
Fabulous floral worlds bloom
The solace of books

―Mia P Solomonides


Wisteria blooms
Along a sidewalk café
Coffee in the air

―Ravi Kivan


watermelon patch
I let the weathered scarecrow
try on my straw hat

―Darrell Lindsey


Like new fallen snow
Seabirds rest then I approach
White riot of flight

―Mike Bryant


A haiku should have two parts or two images or two aspects. The two things contrast or combine creatively to produce the poem’s overall effect. Spencer Green’s skyscrapers do not wait passively for snow, but actively scratch it out of the gray sky. Mia Solomonides teases readers with a flagrantly impossible winter scene—then explains that it exists in the books one can comfortably read indoors on a cold day. Ravi Kivan makes clever use of the related words “café” (a place) and “coffee” (a beverage served in such a place) to appeal to the two senses of sight and taste. In all three poems, Part One is the first two lines, and Part Two the final line. This is usual among haiku, but not universal. Darrell Lindsey sets the scene in his first line, then enters and alters it in the remaining two lines. Mike Bryant’s poem is a very unusual haiku that divides exactly in the middle, where the quiet scene moves to action. His ninth syllable, the word “then,” is something like a Japanese kireji or “cutting word,” but such words have functions in Japanese that are unfamiliar in the English language. Poets writing in English shouldn’t save a syllable to slice lines, but simply make sure that each haiku has two elements that can interact in an interesting way.


The Intriguing Insight

How can haiku demand an original insight in every poem? Remember, first of all, that this most difficult requirement is simply a special perception from the poet’s own carefully observed scene.


Boughs froth with new blooms
when the monsoon rain sweeps through
trees toss their bouquets

―Rachel Nel


How short is freedom
gained by the cherry blossom
released from the branch

―Germain Droogenbroodt


Falling August stars
The sky is full of beauty
So many wishes



All three of these poems view something beautiful falling. Rachel Nel sees monsoon rain sweeping frothy blooms from boughs; she thinks of a bride tossing her bouquet to others as the wedding celebration ends. Good thought—and no more is needed. The poem is done, and the poet doesn’t have to picture anyone catching soggy flowers. The more philosophical Germain Droogenbroodt reflects on the distance between branch and ground when a cherry blossom falls. To him, this brings thoughts of short-lived freedom. Again, enough insight for an excellent haiku, expressed in terms of the bloom being released from the prison of the branch. Vita sees stars fall during summer meteor showers. The additional light and motion brighten and beautify the already starry sky—and the observer gains hope for many wishes fulfilled, in accord with the proverb, “to wish upon a falling star.”


Quality Alone Cannot Qualify


What is a Haiku?
Beautiful words . . . not many
Alas! Not these words

―Norma Pain


This clever poem in haiku form is good and true and beautiful, but it is not a haiku. If you don’t know why not, please read over the Examples and Explanation again. Looking forward to your haiku!



Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others. 

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The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

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45 Responses

  1. Roy E. Peterson

    Outstanding essay and presentation on haiku. I made my own analysis a couple of years ago, but for clarity, in depth analysis and beauty I must save this for my own future use. I particularly liked the “Intriguing Insight,” not only for the things falling, but for the interpretation.

    • Muhanned Elsayyid

      I’m trying to submit my piece for the Haiku competition that ends on September 29th but can’t seem to figure it out so I emailed it to an admin and I post here.

      Maiku: My First Haiku

      What is a poem
      Woven terms seeking solemn
      Pirouetted rhythm

      • Mike Bryant

        The contest deadline was extended to September 16 only.
        Your entry is late and cannot be considered this year. Please enter next year.
        Mike the Moderator

  2. C.B. Anderson

    I’m not sure a good
    Haiku exists in English
    But it’s worth a try

  3. Joshua C. Frank

    I’ve read haiku, and some are great,
    A snapshot on a bite-sized plate.
    But rhyme and meter, that’s the way
    I’ll do my poems any day.
    When haiku I try to write,
    It’s just okay, it’s not quite right;
    Because I’m Western, through and through,
    I just can’t do a great haiku!

    • Patricia Redfern

      Hi Joshua!

      My dear poet brother.
      Rhyme is like no other.
      Some Haikus do have rhyme.
      A treat to pen, anytime!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      I guess it’s time to eat my words
      Since (how surprising!) I just heard:
      One haiku (who knew I could?)
      Made the list of “very good!”
      So if, as I once did, you think
      At haiku you really stink,
      Don’t stop batting at the plate;
      You might write one that’s really great!

    • Muhanned Elsayyid

      travel far enough through west, might end up East
      then what now might you stuck be
      preserved and nerved with poetry
      so let’s mediate between them and thee
      turn from foe to peace treaty
      switch to saying “hi”, ‘coupe de ta’ is what you sought previously
      I’d like Joshua to B. Frank ~ must ‘see’ to ‘be’
      started writing poetry January 2023
      first Haiku composed ago 3
      titled Maiku, appropriately
      not sure if rules broke ~ ignorant me
      but I’ll still share to spread some glee

      what is a poem
      woven terms seeking solemn
      pirouetted rhythm

      pack your bags come sail with me
      learning ~ sharing ~ merging poetry
      TheonGreyjoy handles me
      Intro done ~ Haiku complete

  4. Norma Pain

    Thank you Margaret for your most appreciated comments on my attempt to write a Haiku poem, and for using it as an example of all that is missing in this endeavor. Thank you also for the article, suggestions and examples.

  5. Paul Freeman

    Five syllable line;
    then seven, then another
    five more syllables.

    By Jove, I’ve got it!

  6. Margaret Coats

    Kip, these look like your entries to “Haiku Competition 2022.”
    I’ll ask the moderator to post them there. We have multiple links between two posts, which may have caused confusion about where to enter haiku for the contest. Anyone else who may notice this, please go to “Haiku Competition 2022” to post your entries. Comments on the essay “What Makes A Good Haiku?” belong here. Thanks!

  7. Margaret Coats

    Kip Rosser, the haiku you posted here have been moved to “Haiku Competition 2022.” Thanks for your contributions! This comment space is intended for responses to the essay, “What Makes A Good Haiku?” There are multiple links between these two posts, and that may have caused a slight problem, but your haiku are now where they should be as entries in the competition.

  8. Greg love

    As a raindrop falls,
    A thirsty plant awaits it,
    Raindrops are not fools.

    The wave hits the beach,
    The water erodes the beach,
    The sea has to eat,

    The tree bears a fruit,
    I eat with naivety,
    The tree bears more fruit,

  9. Mary Alamu

    No man is useless,
    He is so good at something,
    And calls it talent.

    A deserted hut,
    Provides full space for creepers,
    To build a palace.

    I love writing it,
    A form of poetry it is.
    You just read haiku.

  10. Teri Jo Rask

    Red no longer flows,
    Goodbye is sometimes easy.
    A breath in, then out.

    Wild exquisite night!
    A blanket sky shimmering
    Joy envelops me

    Despite my efforts
    Omicron got me real bad
    Wear a mask, be cool.

  11. Judy Eldawy

    Covid, life changing
    Nurses fighting to save us all
    Our souls are weary

  12. Judy Eldawy

    Night’s cacophony
    Crickets chirp and leaves rustle
    Lullabies for sleep

  13. Judy Eldawy

    Night’s cacophony
    Crickets chirp and leaves rustle
    Lullabies for souls

    Sorry- I did not mean to use sleep in the above haiku. Above is what I intended.

  14. Endurance ogbefun

    Time ticks like a bomb
    Wearing the soul to the call
    Of the dreadful tomb

    Friends will come and go
    Like the leaves of a grapetree
    Family are roots

    Chirpings of song birds
    leaves carpeted on brown earth
    beauty of summer

  15. Grace Elina

    What if one day you
    Build roads to bridges to space
    What if one day we

  16. Millard Lowe

    The rain stopped falling…
    Happy worms came up to play…
    Hungry birds joined them…

    A web trapped a fly;
    A spider crawled to the catch:-
    A frog enjoyed both…

    Raging flames ashed trees,
    We prayed for rain;
    Mudslides stole our homes:-

    • Millard Lowe

      Thanks for your enlightening article. I immediately recognized my Present Tense oversights. Going back to edit the many Haikus I have attempted to write over the past two years. I am hooked on this style. Will send you my edit of these three for your assessment. Again, thanks. Peace and Love.

  17. Larry Coltin

    I want to mention the elephant in the room. I hope I am not out of line. I loved Martin Elster’s clever Haiku about the crickets. But the last line has 6 syllables. A stylized spelling of indifferent, (Indif’rent), I suppose could solve the problem, or is it a problem? Is there an exception to the rule?

    • Margaret Coats

      Larry, there are a few sounds pronounced by diverse English speakers with different numbers of syllables. Because this is an international contest, we accept the variants as counted by the poet. Variants are noted in comprehensive dictionaries. They include:

      “different” can be either two or three syllables
      “fire” “mire” and similar words can be one or two syllables
      “cruel” “fuel” and similar words can be one or two syllables

      • Millard Lowe

        Great! Thanks for the clarification of the syllable count for those selected words.

  18. Lorraine Murphy

    Modern garden sheds
    daisies, weeds and bumblebees;
    grass is not greener.

    (Haiku moved to contest page by Moderator)

  19. Margaret Coats

    Dear haiku writers,

    To enter the 2023 Contest, please DO NOT PLACE YOUR POEMS HERE. They need to be typed into this year’s contest entry page, which will appear when you click on the words HAIKU CONTEST at the top right of this page. Thank you! I look forward to seeing your entries there.

    • Margaret Coats

      Keith, your three haiku have been moved to the 2023 Haiku Contest page, as entries in the contest.

  20. Margaret Coats

    Dear haiku writers, POST ENTRIES FOR THE 2023 CONTEST on the contest page, NOT HERE. You can get to the 2023 contest page easily by clicking on the HAIKU CONTEST block at the top right of this page. Looking for your haiku there–thanks!

  21. matthew S harris

    pitch perfect ideal day
    borne aloft skyward

    cerulean heavens
    infinitesimal speck
    earthling existence

    autumnal foliage
    kaleidoscope of color
    damned myopia

  22. Donald M. Foy


    Yesterday is history
    Tomorrow is a mystery
    Today is reality
    Life is short
    Art is long

  23. Vasanthi Swetha

    Roses in gardens —
    lost lovers raising hands
    calling for your help

    Time is slow today
    perhaps children are drawing 
    sunrises in art class

    Spring walks by summer
    the coy sun smells of honey
    bees follow the rays

    • Vasanthi Swetha

      Apologies, few small edits to the previous one:

      Roses in gardens —
      lost lovers raising both hands
      calling for your help

      Time is slow today
      perhaps children are drawing 
      suns rise in art class

      Spring walks by summer
      the coy sun smells of honey
      bees follow the rays

    • Judith A. Hix

      (A typing correction : last line : takes replacing take)

      Peace on the prairie

      Soil unturned neath the tall grass

      Then eagle takes vole


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