Literary Analysis - The Haiku

Errors In Translation

When conducting Haiku Literary analysis, you will notice that the aesthetic of the haiku is such that perfect examples of the form are relatively uncommon, Basho himself even remarked that if a haiku poet has completed ten good poems, he is a master. With three or four sufficing for the title of poet.

Just because a poem is perfect in one language, it might not necessarily translate well into another. The delicate nature of the haiku means its magic can easily be lost in translation. A good example of how this can occur is Basho's infamous haiku about the old pond, of which numerous different translations exist:

The quiet pond

A frog leaps in,

The sound of the water.

- Translated by Edward Seidensticker

The old pond,

A frog jumps in:


- Translated by Alan Watts


- Translated by James Kirkup

old pond

a frog leaps in —

a moment after, silence

- Translated by Ross Figgins

An old pond —

The sound

Of a diving frog.

- Kenneth Rexroth

The Haiku is designed to precipitate a sudden moment of stillnesss or realisation. The act of perception of the phenonema depiced in the poetry becomes all that is of concern. When doing literary analysis of haiku, one might consider how effectively the haiku achieves this, or if it is lost in translation.

Three Elements

Basho remarked that 'Haiku should not be composed'

it is more a process of realisation, and this realisation is often a synthesis of these three elements:


The successful haiku blends these three elements into a harmonious whole.

Consider how, in your haiku, these elements interact within the poem to produce a cohesive whole.

Visual Presentation

The art of writing haiku in Japanese is almost inseperable from the art of calligraphy. Although Western poems lack this, the syntax and layout of haiku still leaves room for creative expression.

Some poems might use a sort of visual onomatopoeia. The rhythm of the poem being reflected in its layout.

Look at the use of punctuation and grammar in your haiku. How are hyphens and ellipsis used to create dramatic effect?

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