Recently, while down a research rabbit hole, I found myself learning about the history of haiku.
They were part of the curriculum back when I was a kid, and I’ve always enjoyed tinkering around with them, sometimes writing a few silly lines in a birthday card or whatnot, but I never knew much about them as an art form. Here’s what I learned down the rabbit hole:
What we know as a haiku (the 3-line poem with the 5-7-5 syllable rule) became a thing in the 17th century, but before that, we’re talking WAY back in the 13th century, the haiku was just the opening phrase of a much longer, oral poem called a renga, which means “linked poem.”
Two poets (or poets working in two teams) composed the renga. The first poet would draft the 3-line, 5-7-5 bit and the other poet (or other team) would finish it off with two 7-syllable lines. Here’s an example:
Snow yet remaining
The mountain slopes are misty –
An evening in spring.
Far away the water flows
Past the plum-scented village.
The two poets/teams would pass it back and forth, adding three lines, then two, until the poems were hundreds of lines long.
The first stanza was called the Hokku. (If you want to geek out a little there are terms for all of the parts of renga, and rules for the challenge of creating them.)
Then, in the 17th century, there was apparently a backlash against long poems (the kids decided they were simply not cool anymore). That was when poets began dropping the long back and forth, opting instead to go with just the first stanza, which became known as the haiku in the late 19th century.
Now you know.