The Evolution of a Haiku

Recently while on my University’s campus, I was struck by two images: daffodils bending to a soft, pattering rain and a clock ticking away in the quiet English department student lounge.

Now it is not often that I decide to write Haikus. Haiku is not my preferred style of poetry, but there are those moments when I see an image and I know immediately that the best way to display it in words is in the simple poetic form of haiku.

So to the best of my ability, I will show you how I came to my finishing decisions on each haiku that I wrote that particular rainy afternoon.

The Clock Haiku

As I contemplated the clock in the study lounge, the first word that came to my mind was gentleman. I feel like clocks and gentlemen have a lot in common: reliability, consistency, steadiness, and selflessness. And, not coincidentally, they both like to know what the time is, and to tell others the time.

Now the second image that popped into my mind was a mustache. The hour-hand of the clock had dipped to 4, and the minute hand inched its way to 4:45pm. It was an odd and uneven mustache stretching across the definitions of time, but it seemed like a mustache all the same.

So from those two images, came all of these lines:

Haiku Round 1 (with rambling)

That gentleman on the wall with
the ever lilting looping mustache...
Oh, Dear! Look at the time!

My skirts follow in a flutter
My self-pressed steps

Painful pumps digging deeper
Into muddy depths that I stare down

Down, down, ignoring the soar
Of cherry blossoms above

My tousled hair receives its adventurous
Petals, the ones that decided to

Let go.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing I thought after I looked back at those lines: “Wow, that took an interesting turn!” I absolutely agree. I had taken the aspect of time and pushed it into me as a poetic character, rushing and passing other images I’d seen, such as the Cherry blossoms blooming by one of the academic halls I pass every day. In doing so, I veered incredibly far from the form I’d originally wanted. The above is nothing close to a haiku. More like… possibilities for many different haikus. But this is a testimony to the effectiveness of stream of consciousness writing, and then returning to what you have written to find what you actually want to work with.

So I filtered out those extra ideas–rushing, cherry blossoms and tousled hair–that took away from the immediate image that I saw: the clock. So my next step was to write three lines that fit into the popular haiku form: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and then 5 syllables for the last line. Here is my first attempt:

Haiku A

That gentleman with
the lilting, looping mustache;
Time whispers from walls.

In Haiku A, I kept several elements of the original few lines, but I nitpicked through the words and kept only the most necessary. I kept gentleman because that word and image is important to me in order to bring this clock to life. The words lilting, looming mustache are musical and key to the idea that the hour-hands form a moving mustache. And then I still wanted the word wall or walls included.

In the next version, let’s say Haiku B, I simply switched some of the words around, and played more with the idea of the clock’s mustache.

Haiku B

The gentleman on
The wall is lilting, looping
His mustache ‘round time.

Immediately after writing this second version, I liked it the most. But since then I have asked others for their opinions on the two different versions, and everyone I have asked preferred Haiku B.

I think this is because the first two lines of Haiku A are a single image combined, which is separated by the semi-colon from the third line. This gives the third line more of a punch, whereas the the third line in Haiku B is a continuation of the word “looping” from its second line. Perhaps Haiku B feels more cohesive as a whole, but I often find that purposeful separation in poetry is more satisfying to a reader than a jumble of togetherness. Readers need places to breathe, contemplate and anticipate.

The Daffodil Haiku

Now remember the other image I had seen that day? Daffodils stooping in the rain? Well, this also budded into another haiku:

Daffodils A

Why do daisies sink
Their sunshine heads when rain
Fulfills earthiness?

I love the word sink; it came out naturally as I thought about the stooping motion of the flowers beneath the weight of the soft rain. But I’m not sure how the word earthiness made its way into the verse. I understand what I was going for, but no one needs an explanation that daffodils or flowers are related to the earth or the concept of earthiness.

 Also note that I took the creative liberty to change daffodils to daisies. I did not want to, as they are very different kinds of yellow flowers, but when writing haikus one must think about the count of syllables.

Still, I was rather convicted for leaving behind the concept of Daffodils. So what did I do? I researched other names that Daffodils are known by, and found a nice (and not coincidentally poetic) correlation with the greek god Narcissus. According to Flowers & Plants by Interflora, the name of the daffodil family is Narcissus. “It is so called because its bulb houses a toxic substance – the Greek word ‘narcissus’ means ‘numbness’, so it is a reference to its narcotic nature.” So not only have I found a more creative way to name daffodils, I have learned more about the plant itself. (Take a look at the interesting facts of why Narcissus is another term for Daffodil.)

All of these ideas—rain, steeples, sunshine, color, and numbness—they all mixed in so many different emotions and moody messages; and I finally saw the potential of this little poem.

Daffodils B

Narcissus, why do
You sink your sunshine steeples?
‘Tis but drops of rain.

Which changed yet again! As I created the featured image for this post, I was looking at the poem so much that I realized I did not like the word do hanging at the end of the first line. Its sound was not soft enough or inclusive enough to fully lead to the second line. And I began to wonder which is more cheesy, sunshine or sunrise? Maybe I should let you decide.

My final version is as seen on the featured image:


Narcissus, why sink
your golden sunrise steeples?
‘Tis but drops of rain.

Talk about how poetry can change at any time!

So which version of which haikus do you like? And why? Also, do you think it’s crazy that I’ve still thought up even more variations of these haikus? I certainly do! But I love searching through all sorts of different versions of this concise poetic form to find the perfect words for the perfect image. Thank you for reading!


3 thoughts on “The Evolution of a Haiku

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