plural haiku An unrhymed Japanese poetic form consisting of 17 syllables arranged in three lines containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. Also, a poem written in the haiku form or a modification of it but in a language other than Japanese.
The term haiku is derived from the first element of the word haikai (a humorous form of renga [linked-verse poem]) and the second of hokku (the initial stanza of a renga). The hokku, which set the tone of the poem, had to contain in its three lines mention of such subjects as the season, the time of day, and the dominant features of the landscape, making it almost an independent poem. The hokku (often interchangeably called haikai) became known as the haiku late in the 19th century, when it was entirely divested of its original function of opening a sequence of verse; today, even the earlier hokku are usually called haiku. The form gained distinction in the 17th century, when the great master Basho^O elevated haiku to a highly refined and conscious art. The subject range of the haiku was eventually broadened, but it remained an art of expressing much and suggesting more in the fewest possible words. Other outstanding haiku masters were Buson in the 18th century, Kobayashi Issa in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Masaoka Shiki in the late 19th century. It has remained Japan's most popular poetic form.
In English, the Imagist poets and others wrote haiku or imitated the form.