Skip to content

Is there a haiku that has shaped your life somehow?

When I was a budding poet I kept notebooks of poems that impressed me. I figured the best way to learn what the poets were doing would be to copy the poems by hand into notebooks. I carried the notebooks everywhere. On this day in particular, I was sitting in a field on my college campus in Glassboro, N.J. I was sharing a haiku with my friend, Chris.

Moonlit sleet 
In the holes of my 
-David Lloyd


“Do you know that he teaches here?” Chris said.

I had no clue. It was just a poem I loved. It was a total coincidence that the poem’s author, David Lloyd, had an office that overlooked the very field we were sitting in.

I met Lloyd and we met for lunch soon after. At one point I gave him some poems I had been working on. He called and we met up again. His poem meant a lot to me. And meeting him would have an impact on my life.

Is there a haiku that has shaped your life somehow? Would you share it and include a little story about it by clicking on the “comment” button?

Thanks, and of course, I will share more of my story about David Lloyd as we go along!


This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. In the preface for his haiku book, The Circle (Tuttle, 1974), David Lloyd says that publishing the book gave him nine joys. He lists those joys as his home and children as his primary subjects, his gratefulness to haiku magazine editors who blessed his poems by publishing them, his thankfulness to prominent haiku translators Harold G. Henderson and R. H. Blyth, gratefulness for nature itself, haiku written by others, the “mystery of heaven” that resides in each haiku poem, the current era in which we live, the techniques of haiku shaped by our time, and publishing the book itself. These are abundant joys that anyone who writes haiku often shares. Here’s a haiku from David’s book, a poem that celebrates the joy of life, the joy of existence, as so many haiku do:

    Duck feathers
    On the lake’s shore—
    Silent skies.

    I look forward, Gene, to hearing more about your serendipitous experience with David Lloyd, and his influence on you and your poetry.

  2. Dear Larry,

    I just saw your comments! Thank you.

    When I was given “frost soon,” I had recently returned to Wisconsin, to be closer to my mother in her older years, following 20 years of full-time study and work in education. It was amazing to have more time to be in the garden and to observe more closely.

    If I got something right in this poem, it was a gift! I’m only beginning to actually study haiku and craft. Having been in education for so long, I needed to begin with haiku simply by reading many poems and poets, and writing as I can.

    I enjoy visiting THF every day, and always learn something new!


  3. Ellen, it makes me chuckle to think how Blyth might have typically responded to your haiku:

    frost soon–
    cutting flowers

    I imagine Blyth making a reference to some such thing as these lines from Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to make much of Time”:

    Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old Time is still a flying:
    And this same flower that smiles to-day,
    To morrow will be dying.

  4. Ellen, I like your first haiku. Haiku on the subject of flower cutting tend to view that activity with a certain amount of disapprobation, but your haiku is a nice ‘twist’ on this, viewing the flower cutting as an act of generosity, to save the flowers, so to speak, from the frost.

    I like using multi-syllable words in haiku, and “generously” is a great multi-syllable word! There used to be a small magazine called “Japanophile,” which had a haiku columnist. I forget his name, and my old issues are packed away, and I’m not going to dig them out right now, but he wrote a column once in praise of using multi-syllabic words in English-language haiku, and I agree with him!

    “Cutting flowers generously” reminds me of the story about the great tea master Rikyu and the Shogun at the time, Hideyoshi. Rikyu had a trellis overflowing with gorgeous morning glories, and Hideyoshi invited himself to a tea ceremony, in order to see the display of flowers. When he arrived at Rikyu’s tea house, all the morning glories had been cut. Angrily, Hideyoshi entered the tea room, only to find a single morning glory on display in a vase. He was mollified by that, although I don’t think he learned anything lasting, since he later forced Rikyu to build him a tea room made out of solid gold!!

    Rikyu, in cutting all the morning glories, only saving one, was being very generous toward Hideyoshi that day indeed!


  5. Larry, What a nice idea! I like your first haiku.

    This is the first haiku I remember writing:

    frost soon–
    cutting flowers

    (Published in The TOP, The Tournament of Poetry, 1995)


  6. Ellen, I’m glad you like them.

    P.S. I don’t know if it’s apropos of this thread’s topic, but what’s the first haiku that we ever wrote? I’m not going to give the version of mine that first saw print in my college’s literary magazine, but I’ve been revising it on and off since then, and here is the current version:

    winter rain–
    the bright yellow school bus
    a warming sight!


  7. Like Lorin, I wouldn’t say any haiku have changed my life, but the two English language haiku that got me interested in haiku are:

    After weeks of watching the roof leak
    I fixed it tonight
    by moving a single board

    –Gary Snyder


    Useless, useless,
    the heavy rain
    driving into the sea.

    –Jack Kerouac (version in “Scattered Poems”)

    And the two Japanese haiku that speak to me most personally these days are:

    asagao no hanada no awaki inochi oshi

    I love the rest of my life
    Though it is transitory
    Like a light azure morning glory.

    Fusei, Tr. Miura

    and what I consider to be a companion piece:

    asagao no kon no kanata no tsukihi kana

    The morning-glory—
    far beyond its dark blue,
    months and days to come.

    –Hakyo, Tr. Ueda


  8. I dunno about ‘shaping my life’, but the haiku that sucked me into writing haiku, the one that made me feel that I could be part of this is:

    picking up a jellyfish
    my lifeline
    clear and deep

    – Dhugal Lindsay

    It was my own experience! Though I didn’t have a clue at the time that Dhugal was a marine biologist.

    Since then, there have been many, including Issa’s ‘mother/ sea’ ku in more than one of its tranbslations, and Basho’s ‘even in Kyoto’ that Dave cites. Also, in relation to that Kyoto ku of Basho’s, Kenneth White’s:

    Little japanese apple-tree
    saying quietly:
    no need to go to Kyoto


    (From ‘The Bhodi Notebook’, from ‘The Bird Path: Collected Longer Poems’, Penguin, 1989)

    – Lorin

  9. Gene:

    I’d like to second Dave Russo’s choice of “Even in Kyoto” – a fine, fine haiku.

    Another Hass translation, this time by Issa, is something so deeply elemental that it resonates with me each time I read or think about it (which I do frequently):

    Mother I never knew,
    every time I see the ocean,
    every time—

  10. McClintock’s tanka is perfect, thank you Michele! I have three examples:

    Paul Miller’s migrating wales, John Wills’s waterthrush, and Peggy Lyles’s intigo bunting


  11. The late professor William LaFleur introduced me to the world of haiku & tanka in his classroom & with his wonderful translations of Saigyo. Learning to love haiku & tanka has been easy. Learning the craft of writing haiku & tanka has been a difficult journey. I remember the moment I first read Kuniharu Shimizu. He had a poem in The Heron’s Nest:

    Manhattan skyline—
    I gather egg-shaped stones
    by the river

    Kuniharu Shimizu
    The Heron’s Nest VI:3

    The poem stunned me & urged me continue my journey as a poet. It was an unforgettable moment for me. And however many years later that the editors of Haiku 21 asked for suggestions for the best haiku of this young century, his was the one I offered.

    In “Something Like an Autobiography,” Akira Kurosawa writes of “the children in Buddhist limbo who have preceded their parents in death: On the banks of the River Sai they pile up stones to form little towers. But every time a tower is completed, a mean devil comes and knocks it down (p.166).”

  12. Dave, This haiku by Basho came to my mind too. I was happy to find it again recently in Montage: The Book (THF, Created and Edited by Allan Burns).

    But still finding my words to say why…Ellen

  13. Even in Kyoto—
    hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
    I long for Kyoto.

    Basho/translated by Robert Hass

    This is the first poem of Basho’s in Robert Hass’s The Essential Haiku. It was one of the first poems that gave me a sense of the depth of Japanese haiku and the possibilities of haiku in English. For me, this particular version of the poem captures the equilibrium between our perception of a place and our feeling for that place. It was one of the poems that put me on the path to writing haiku and reading the haiku of my fellow toilers in the rice paddies of haikai 😉 Or maybe the factory floors and cubicles of haikai.

  14. moonlit –
    sleet in the holes of my
    sleet –
    moonlit into holes of my

  15. losing its name
    a river
    enters the sea
    -John Sandbach

    It’s hard to distinguish whether a haiku has shapes a life or a life shapes a haiku. That’s precisely the beauty of the best haiku, they blur the line between me / not me and make time and space immaterial. They allow us to see life as truly experienced, all at once, without preconceived borders. This is the ‘aha’ moment. Then the mind comes back in dissecting and judging, placing value and the personal into the poem.
    Haiku, (and its dear cousin tanka) make us see and experience life as it is, not how we think it is, giving us that glorious moment of freedom.

    between sun and shade
    a butterfly pauses
    like none I’ve seen –
    who ever falls in love
    with someone they know?
    – Michael McClintock

    (I know, tanka…forgive me.)
    Michele L. Harvey

  16. I have always felt a profound gratitude to Tadashi Kondo’s lovely rendering of “yume no yo ni/negi o tsukurishi/sabishisa yo”…

    how lonely
    to have grown scallions
    in the world of dreams
    -Nagata Koi

    Having grown my share of scallions in this world, Nagata-san’s haiku helped me to learn to savor the pungent taste.

  17. The first haiku I ever read, as a young child, was this:

    Life? butterfly
    on a swaying grass that’s all…
    but exquisite!


    In the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, Peter Pauper Press published a series of four small haiku books, and it was in one of them. Somehow, our copies of the books were lost over time. I had memorized this haiku, but thought I had remembered it wrong, because try as I might, I couldn’t make the syllable count come out to 17. Now I know why! I recently purchased used copies of the old books on Amazon and in Powell’s, and also discovered the link to read this volume online:

    It’s still one of my favorite haiku.

  18. Well, for me it wasn’t a poem so much as a book. It was after John had died and my life had become out of whack to say the least. I kept reading poetry of all sorts because it was the only thing that made sense to me during those months. I had ordered Jim Kacian’s “six directions”…(out of print now)… and I have to tell you… I found the center point in that book… Something clicked in my mind/heart and brought everything into focus… Stay in the center… and I’ve found Jim’s books to always seem to follow that “dead reckoning” ever since.

  19. the fat worm
    the full breasted robin
    become one.

    realizing the oneness of everything in the universe, at all levels.

  20. There are many poems that have touched and influenced me. Of haiku, I think my favorite is this:

    this piercing cold I feel
    my dead wife’s comb, in our bedroom
    under my heel . . . .

    Too miss someone so much, to be so deep in grief … I relate to this even more having lost my father a few years ago. As a poet, the crisp imagery and clearly communicated emotion, these are what I so want to capture in my writing.

    I enjoyed your story very much. I was happy you were able to meet a writer who so influenced you.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top