summer haiku d’été – common loons = plongeons huards

summer haiku d’été - common loons = plongeons huards

common loons
phantom howlers
pierce the moon

common loons haiku

plongeons huards
fantômes qui hurlent
percent la lune

Richard Vallance

Commentary on the rhythm and format of Canadian haiku:

In my view, the rhythm and assonance of haiku should be poetic, otherwise the haiku is not poetry.

Moreover, the so-called 5-7-5 syllable convention = 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second and 5 syllables in the third line is not valid whatsoever, because it does not exist in Japanese. Haiku should be free form, allowing anywhere from 7 or 8 to 17 syllables. For instance, in the common loons haiku in English above, we have 3-4-3 = 10 syllables. And since the grammar and syntax of different languages is never the same, the same haiku in French runs to 4-4-3 = 11 syllables, which is scarcely surprising. All too many haijin (haiku poets) try to force their haiku into the strict framework of so-called 5-7-5, with the result that many of their haiku sound stilted and unnatural.

This is especially of translations of Japanese haiku, the most famous of which is the “frog in the pond” haiku of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). Here are 3 translations of his haiku, one bad in 5-7-5 format and 2 good ones in free format:

bad translation:

Pond, there, still and old!
A frog has jumped from the shore.
The splash can be heard. 

Failures in this translation:
first line: insertion of the words “there” and “still” to flush out the line
second line:  “has jumped”, past tense & “from the shore” is not found in the original Japanese haiku at all!
third line: in the passive voice 

Trans. Eli Siegel

good translations:

old pond
frog leaping

Trans. Cid Corman 

the old pond,
a frog jumps in:

Trans. Alan Watts

Original haiku in Japanese:

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

This looks like 5-7-5 syllables, but as you can see for yourself in the original haiku in the kanji script, there are actually only 3 kanji characters in the first line, with 5 in the second line and 3 in the third for a total of just 11. So the so-called 5-7-5 strict formula is blown out of the water!

old pond haiku in kanji


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Historical linguist, Linear B, Mycenaean Greek, Minoan Linear A, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, ancient Greek, Homer, Iliad, only Blog ENTIRELY devoted to Linear B on Internet; bilingual English- French, read Latin fluently, read Italian & ancient Greek including Linear B well, Antikythera Mechanism

5 thoughts on “summer haiku d’été – common loons = plongeons huards”

  1. It all depends what you are using the 5-7-5 for. Very often, when writing a haiku in other-than-Japanese, not only a liberated/ing sense of the moment will occur to the haijin, but also a sense of the shape of the container the moment is to be transported in. A haiku that catches the breath is often one that has the perfect blend of freedom and discipline.


    1. Yes, I absolutely agree. That is why I use the number of syllables which fit each haiku. Sometimes, but not very often, the count can come to 5-7-5. But caveat poetas. Even if the count is 5-7-5 in English OR French, it will almost never be the same in both languages, because the diverse structures of these two languages forbids this. This is also true of any haiku written multi-lingually. That is why I simply let the words flow off my pen as they will. So yes, freedom and discipline are the order of the day. I always aim at high discipline. I always try to aim at beautiful rhythm and assonance, because without these no haiku is real poetry, at least to my mind. We each have our own style, of course, and that is what makes the world go round! Thanks so much for your insights! Richard


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