haiku and senryū: what is the difference?

haiku and senryū: what is the difference?
haiku and senryu what is the difference

how are haiku and senryū similar?

Both haiku and senryū have a 5/7/5 syllable pattern written in three lines, are unmetered, and do not rhyme.

They both evolved from a form of Japanese poetry called renga. A renga had an opening stanza known as a hokku, which later became a stand-alone poem known as a haiku.

how are they different?

A haiku will traditionally have a kireji, or cutting word (which, in English, is equivalent to a verbal caesura or the use of punctuation to stop the flow of the line), as well as a kigo, or season word.

Senryū are written without kireji or kigo. They are typically about human nature instead of the natural world. They also differ in tone: where haiku is earnest, senryū is humorous, irreverent, ironic, satiric, or vulgar.

a modern take

You might find a lot of poems claiming to be haiku are actually senryū, or don’t match the above description at all. They might have a different number of syllables, or might not have a cutting word or season word. This is nothing to worry about– English language versions of these poems are part of a tradition of poetry that has grown and changed over the centuries, and has been influenced by the cultures where it has been adopted.

Ônishi Yasuyo, a prominent figure in modern haiku, has said, “If someone asks me how senryū differ from haiku, I tell the enquirer that the only distinction that can be made is by author’s name.”

Because of the nature of the Japanese language, it’s not realistic to try to make a haiku or senryū in English that is perfectly correct. Plus, poetry isn’t math- the numbers don’t have to matter so much. It’s more important to make an emotionally moving poem than it is to fit a mold.

examples of haiku and senryū

old pond

frog leaps in

water’s sound

Matsuo Bashō

of Edo’s rain

how many mouthful did you drink


Kobayashi Issa

The taste

Of rain

–Why kneel?

Jack Kerouac

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound

When I catch

the robber,

my own son

Karai Hachiemon

Haikus are easy

but sometimes they don’t make sense


Rolf Nelson


anne’s haiku hub

essay from Modern Haiku, by Hiroaki Sato

what type of haiku poet are you?

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