Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Sep 14
40 Haiku Poems Examples Everyone Should Know About
Haiku is a form of traditional Japanese poetry, renowned for its simple yet hard-hitting style. They often take inspiration from nature and capture brief moments in time via effective imagery. Here are 40 Haiku poems that ought to leave you in wonder.
1. “The Old Pond” by Matsuo Bashō
One of the four great masters of Japanese haiku, Matsuo Bashō is known for his simplistic yet thought-provoking haikus. “The Old Pond”, arguably his most famous piece, stays true to his style of couching observations of human nature within natural imagery. One interpretation is that by metaphorically using the ‘pond’ to symbolize the mind, Bashō brings to light the impact of external stimuli (embodied by the frog, a traditional subject of Japanese poetry) on the human mind.
2. “The light of a candle” by Yosa Buson
The light of a candle
Is transferred to another candle —
Another of haiku’s Great Masters, Yosa Buson is known for bringing in a certain sensuality to his poems (perhaps owing to his training as a painter). In this haiku, his image of a single lit candle against the twilight artfully depicts how one candle can light another without being diminished — until you have a star-filled sky.
3. “Haiku Ambulance” by Richard Brautigan
A piece of green pepper
off the wooden salad bowl:
For an example of a haiku that doesn’t adhere to traditional conventions, look no further than Richard Brautigan’s cheeky “Haiku Ambulance”. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the syllable count doesn’t fall into the 5-7-5 pattern, and the lines are off-balance, too. So what? Appropriately, this poem suggests that nothing means anything at all — in a pepper’s exile from a salad bowl, in the rules of a poem, or even (dare we say) life.
4. “A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa
This world of dew
is a world of dew,
and yet, and yet.
The third master of Japanese haiku, Kobayashi Issa, grew up in poverty. From this humble background emerged beautiful poetry that expressed empathy for the less fortunate, capturing daily hardships faced by common people. This particularly emotionally stirring haiku was written a month after the passing of Issa’s daughter.
5. “A Poppy Blooms” by Katsushika Hokusai
I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms.
In this piece, Katsushika Hokusai draws similarities between life and his writing — both processes of repetitive creation and destruction. Neither are linear or smooth, and both demand constant work and perseverance. However, the reward of his perseverance is something undeniably beautiful.
6. “In the moonlight” by Yosa Buson
In pale moonlight
the wisteria’s scent
comes from far away.
Buson invites the reader to share in his nostalgia with elements from nature such as ‘pale moonlight’ and the ‘wisteria’s scent’ triggering the our visual and olfactory senses — the fact that the scent is coming from far away adds a transportive element to the poem, asking us to imagine the unseen beauty of this tree.
7. “The earth shakes” by Steve Sanfield
The earth shakes
to remind us.
Penned in English, poet Steve Sanfield’s only haiku is a quiet reminder of our mortality, inviting us to consider what may be important to us before it’s too late.
8. “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces
in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
All imagery with zero verbs, Ezra Pound delicately captures a still moment in time. The first image entirely comprises humans (faces in the crowd), while the second only shows nature (petals). By likening the two, the poet highlights the fleeting nature of life — be it the people we encounter every day or the wilting petals.
9. “The Taste of Rain” by Jack Kerouac
— Why kneel?
Yep, the iconoclastic author behind On the Road also wrote haikus! As one of the Beat Generation’s leading figures, he was part of a movement that produced some of the 20th century’s influential poems. This particular haiku has many interpretations — with many assuming this to be Kerouac’s take on religion and God.
10. “Haiku [for you]” by Sonia Sanchez
love between us is
speech and breath. loving you is
a long river running.
“Haiku [for you]” acts as a warm, comforting hug. The poet draws similarities between the nature of their love and that of ‘speech’ and ‘breath’ — natural and unforced. If someone whispered this to you, wouldn’t you feel love, too?
11. “Lines on a Skull” by Ravi Shankar
life’s little, our heads
sad. Redeemed and wasting clay
this chance. Be of use.
While many haiku have focused on the brevity of life, this entry from Ravi Shankar (no relation to the sitar player) takes a slightly darker approach. Using clay as a metaphor, Shankar reminds us that we have this one chance to shape our life — to either waste it away or be of use.
12. “O snail” by Kobayashi Issa
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
Aside from his pessimistic worldview, Issa was also renowned for shining a spotlight on smaller, less-than-glamorous creatures like grasshoppers, bugs, and sparrows. In “O snail”, he gently reminds the determined snail that while there are important things to do in life (like climbing mountains), there’s more to life than speed! The mountain isn’t going to go anywhere, is it?
13. “I want to sleep” by Masaoka Shiki
I want to sleep
Swat the flies
The last of the Four Great Masters of haiku, Masaoka Shiki had a very direct writing style. Suffering tuberculosis for much of his life, his poetry was an outlet for his isolation. He would often focus on the trivial details of sick-room life, and in this haiku, his sadness and fatigue are almost palpable.
14. “JANUARY” by Paul Holmes
Snowdrops bow their pure white heads
To the sun's glory.
This haiku is a part of Paul Holmes’ A Year in Haiku Poem, where he attempts to capture the essence of each month of the year. Holmes does so fittingly, using vivid imagery to depict the seamless changing of the seasons— as the snowdrops bow their ‘white heads’ to make way for the sun’s glory.
15. “[snowmelt— ]” by Penny Harter
on the banks of the torrent
By placing the river’s powerful torrent next to a delicate flower, Harter captures how all of nature’s diverse elements coexist beautifully. While the torrent certainly paints a more aggressive image than most haiku, it's balanced by the idea of the snow melting and the delicacy of the flowers emerging from spring.
16. [meteor shower] by Michael Dylan Welch
a gentle wave
wets our sandals
Another non-traditional haiku that eschews the 5-7-5, Welch’s entry here is a snapshot of a rare moment shared between the speaker and someone else. The order of the three images creates a sense of the poet lowering their eyes from shooting stars in the sky, before settling on a strangely intimate image of sitting on the beach. With all the wonders of the universe, nothing compares to a moment shared with someone close to you.
17. “[The west wind whispered]” by R.M. Hansard
The west wind whispered,
And touched the eyelids of spring:
Her eyes, Primroses.
By personifying the whispering ‘west wind’, R.M. Hansard gives life and agency to the natural world. Add in a second protagonist, the primrose-eye’d spirit of spring, and there we have it: a sensual dance that ushers in the changing of the seasons.
18. “After Killing a Spider” by Masaoka Shiki
a spider, how lonely I feel
in the cold of night!
Masaoka Shiki’s “After Killing a Spider” is a prime example of haiku’s ability to capture the minutiae of life. Filled with loneliness and regret, After Killing a Spider depicts exactly what it says on the tin. But then it goes further into the speaker’s emotions after the incident — for after killing his only companion, the speaker is left alone in the cold of the night. What’s also interesting is that the first break comes after the word ‘killing’, emphasizing the brutality the speaker felt on performing the act, even if it was just a spider.
19. “[I kill an ant]” by Kato Shuson
I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.
If you haven't had your fill of bug-killing action, here’s a haiku from Kato Shuson. As with “After killing a spider”, the speaker doesn’t feel remorse at having ended a life — but perhaps regrets allowing their kids to see their savage tendencies. Though short in length, this haiku imparts a powerful message: be the person that you want your children to see.
20. “Over The Wintry” by Natsume Sōse
Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.
One can easily imagine the person represented by the metaphorical wind in this haiku: someone in their winter years, who has spent the year railing against the world, only to be left with no one left to listen. While spring often represents the idea of hope in poetry, winter surely is the season of regret.
21. “[cherry blossoms]” by Kobayashi Issa
enough to fill my belly
Cherry blossoms are a big deal in Japan, so it’s no surprise that they often turn up in haiku. In this poem, the cherry blossom festival must be in full swing, and the speaker can barely control their excitement, wishing for more — an excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite might sicken and so die (as Shakespeare might say). It’s enough to make you want to book the next available flight to Tokyo.
22. “[The lamp once out]” by Natsume Soseki
The lamp once out
Cool stars enter
The window frame.
This is a classic by Natsume Soseki, a widely respected novelist and haiku writer. You might read it literally, thinking that one can marvel at the night sky in all of its wonder as soon as the light of the lamp on the street goes out, or you can also interpret the lamp as an active mind 一 only when we manage to quiet it can we access a deeper, wiser source of light, represented by the stars.
23. “[The snow of yesterday]” by Gozan
The snow of yesterday
That fell like cherry blossoms
Is water once again
As you might have noticed, the art of writing haiku demands an almost superhuman level of observation. Aida Bunnosuke, also known as Gozan, speaks about the impermanence of our surroundings by noticing how snowflakes turn into water in very little time. This theme of the ephemeral nature of life is again emphasized by the cherry blossoms, which only last for about a week after peak bloom.
24. “[First autumn morning]” by Murakami Kijo
First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face.
Born in Tokyo in 1865, Murakami Kijo helped with the founding of Hototogisu, a literary magazine responsible for popularizing the modern haiku in Japan. In this particular piece, Kijo uses the simple act of looking into the mirror to convey one’s struggle with mortality.
25. “[Just friends:]” by Alexis Rotella
he watches my gauze dress
blowing on the line.
Contemporary poet Alexis Rotella knows how to tap into common human experiences — like, for instance, a friendship that gets in the way of love. In an instant, we can feel the frustration for a potential that won’t be expressed, and a desire that won’t be satisfied.
26. “[What is it but a dream?]” by Hakuen Ekaku
What is it but a dream?
The blooming as well
Lasts only seven cycles
This pensive haiku by Hakuen Ekaku broodingly reflects on the theme of death. As haiku writers like to remind us, the blooming of the most beautiful of nature’s occurrences like spring cherry blossom are always temporary. Coincidentally, Hakuen’s life also spanned seven cycles, as he died at the age of sixty-six.
27. “[Even in Kyoto,]” by Kobayashi Issa
Even in Kyoto,
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry,
I long for Kyoto
In this classic piece by Kobayashi Issa, a bird’s call brings him back to his early days as a student in Kyoto. The poem exudes a certain nostalgia and longing for that time in his life which is now lost 一 something we can all relate to, in our own ways.
28. “[The crow has flown away:]” by Natsume Soseki
The crow has flown away:
Swaying in the evening sun,
A leafless tree
The changing of the seasons is a theme common to Zen Buddhist philosophy, and its influence can be felt in many haiku. Through a series of simple yet provocative images, Natsume Soseki captures the seamless shift as the summer sun sets to make way for the ‘leafless’ fall.
29. “[The neighing horses]” by Richard Wright
The neighing horses
are causing echoing neighs
in neighboring barns
African American novelist and poet Richard Wright often used the ‘haiku round’, a technique where the reader can go back to the first line from the third, as if repeating the poem in endless loops. Try it with this one! Fun fact: according to his daughter, he would draft his poems on disposable napkins before transferring them to paper.
30. “[Lily:]” by Nick Virgilio
out of the water
out of itself
One of the most celebrated English-language haiku, this poem from Nick Virgilio demonstrates the effectiveness of the kireji, or the cutting word which helps the haiku ‘cut’ through space and time. Here, the abrupt colon after “Lily” allows the reader to fill in the gaps in search of the deeper meaning implied.
31. “Childless woman” by Hattori Ransetsu
The childless woman,
how tenderly she caresses
homeless dolls …
An Edo-period samurai who became a poet under the tutelage of Matsuo Bashō, Ransetsu is not usually considered a heavy-hitter in the history of the haiku. He did, however, have his moments, including this piece — a melancholy portrait that is very much the For sale: baby shoes, never worn of its era.
32. “[A raindrop from]” by Jack Kerouac
A raindrop from
Fell in my beer
While most Japanese haiku poems speak of humankind’s harmonious relationship with nature, Jack Kerouac’s contributions to the oeuvre put man and nature on opposing sides. After sketching an image that could easily have come from a pastoral scene — a raindrop fall from a roof — Keruoac pulls back to reveal the modern context. Representative of Kerouac’s caustic writing style, we find that nature disrupts — rather than soothes — the speaker.
33. “[I was in that fire]” by Andrew Mancinelli
I was in that fire,
The room was dark and somber.
I sleep peacefully.
The first line of Andrew Mancinelli’s haiku certainly packs a powerful punch. Was it a real ‘fire’ that our speaker was in, or a metaphorical one in their life? Have they overcome a tragedy and learned that all things must pass — or do they now “sleep,” perchance to dream, in a place beyond that mortal coil? In either case, it’s chilling stuff!
34. “[Plum flower temple:]” by Natsume Soseki
Plum flower temple:
From the foothills
Natsume Soseki was known for weaving fairy tales into his haikus, and this work is a perfect example. Through the myth-like depiction of the ‘plum flower temple’ or the unknown voices rising from the foothills, he creates a sense of wonder for the enigmas hidden in the world around us.
35. “[The first soft snow:]” by Matsuo Bashō
The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
This piece by Matsuo Bashō is another ode to the power of nature. You almost sense a certain reverence in the ‘awed’ jonquil leaves that ‘bow low’ to the snow — a reminder that all life, however beautiful, eventually gives way to nature.
36. “[A caterpillar,]” by Matsuo Bashō
this deep in fall –
still not a butterfly.
Matsuo Bashō’s brilliance is captured in this simple haiku, which fully immerses you into the perspective of a caterpillar In just three lines. The way in which Bashō depicts the impatient caterpillar conveys a feeling of frustration and desire for growth. In doing so, we realize the angst of unrealized potential.
37. “[On the one-ton temple bell]” by Taniguchi Buson
On the one-ton temple bell
A moonmoth, folded into sleep,
Consider the sound that a ‘one-ton temple bell’ might make if it were to ring. That’s what Taniguchi Buson urges us to imagine, juxtaposing this deep bell against the silent moonmoth, unaware that it might be violently distrubed at any possible moment.
38. “[losing its name]” by John Sandbach
losing its name
enters the sea
As the river gives up its very identity to contribute to the sea, it reminds us of the importance of selflessness. After all, “no man is an island” and we are all parts of a bigger whole, aren’t we?
39. “[Grasses wilt:]” by Yamaguchi Seishi
the braking locomotive
grinds to a halt.
A wilting grass and a braking locomotive: by juxtaposing the two, the poet has created a power dynamic between the images 一 one natural and one man-made. As the grass by the side of the tracks have wilted into the path of the locomotive, the poem suggests that even the mightiest of technological innovations must yield to nature.
40. “[Everything I touch]” by Kobayashi Issa
Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble
No, not the Britney Spears song! Instead, the author Everything I touch speaks about the tangible pain he feels every time he seeks a kindred contact. Through only three lines, he conveys the wounds of love — and the unforgiving ache of connection.
If these haikus have unlocked the deep thinker and poet in you, you can learn how to write a haiku yourself, or turn to our post on 40 Transformative Poems About Life.