Senryu | Japanese, Poem, Haiku, & Examples (2024)

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Bill Guerriero Bill Guerriero was an assistant editor at Encyclopædia Britannica.

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Karai Hachiemon

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senryu, three-line unrhymed Japanese poetic form structurally similar to haiku but treating human nature, usually in a satiric or ironic vein. Whereas haiku focuses on nature, senryu is concerned with human nature and its foibles. Similar to haiku, senryu generally consist of 17 syllables (also called morae) divided over three lines in a 5-7-5 pattern, though these guidelines were less strictly followed as time passed. Senryu differs from haiku in that it is not required to reference the seasons or nature. Itbecame especially popular among the merchant class and common people about the 18th century. Senryu is named after Karai Hachiemon, one of the best known proponents of the form, whose pen name was Karai Senryū (or simply Senryū, which means “river willow”).

Senryu can be lively, darkly humorous, and sometimes vulgar. In Senryu: Japanese Satirical Verses (1949), English author and translator R.H. Blyth describes senryu as “moments of vision into, not the nature of things, but the nature of man…as in a flash of lightning.” The reader glimpses a moment of human life in detail, as in this example from Japanese poet Yosa Buson:

A woman showing
a charcoal-seller his face,
in a mirror.

And in another by an anonymous poet:

Picking up the grapes
so gently,
she asks the price.

According to Blyth, the best way to appreciate senryu is through the understanding of haiku, as the two constitute the constructive and the destructive attitudes of the human spirit. Senryu often use hyperbole, parody, and wit to highlight the irony and humour of everyday life, as this poem by an anonymous author:

“What’s this for?”
Says the carpenter
as he saws it off.

History

Karai Hachiemon, writing in the 18th century, was a poet and government official in Edo (now Tokyo), which was the capital of the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1757, under the pen name Karai Senryū, he became a judge of verse-capping contests called maekuzuke, in which a participant was given a short verse of 14 syllables and asked to add a 17-syllable “capping” verse, called a tsukeku. Eventually, these tsukeku came to be appreciated on their own merits as individual poems. The selected verses were printed on a broadsheet and served as the first senryu anthology, Haifu yanagidaru (“Humorous Poems of the Willow Barrel”), published in 1765. The early anthologies did not print the poets’ names, and this anonymity encouraged common people to participate and freely criticize politicians and the elite class. Karai Hachiemon, who is thought to have judged more than 2,300,000 poems in his lifetime, went on to compile 24 volumes of the anthology, and his successors (many of whom also assumed the pen name Karai Senryū) added more than 140 volumes to the tradition. These tsukeku developed into what we now call senryu.

Modern senryu

Senryu are still being written and enjoyed, especially in journals such as Failed Haiku and Prune Juice, which feature senryu and sponsor senryu contests. In 2019 a senryu by Australian poet Madhuri Pillai won first prize in the H. Gene Murtha Senryu Contest:

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ultrasound gel
as she circles the probe
I read her face

Senryu appear alongside haiku in journals such as Modern Haiku, bottle rockets, and Frogpond, and in the collections The Haiku Anthology (first published in 1974) and Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball (2007). In 1993 English poet Michael Dylan Welch published Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go, one of the first anthologies of senryu in English. Senryu Girl (2016–20), a manga series written and illustrated by Japanese artist Masakuni Igarashi, focuses on the relationship between a girl who communicates only through senryu and an ex-delinquent who tries to compose his own senryu.

The boundary between modern senryu and haiku is often unclear; however, the most significant differences between the two reside in tone and subject matter. If the focus of a poem is human nature or social issues and it elicits some amount of humour, it is likely senryu. Welch succinctly explains that “if haiku is a finger pointing at the moon, senryu is a finger poking you—or someone else—in the ribs.”

Bill Guerriero

Senryu | Japanese, Poem, Haiku, & Examples (2024)

FAQs

What is an example of a senryu poem? ›

Senryū poems typically consist of three lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, just like haiku. E.g. An example of a senryū poem includes these lines: "When I catch, / The robber, / my own son" by Karai Senryū. While not nearly as known as the Japanese haiku, this poetic form is still incredibly important.

What is a haiku poem and give examples? ›

Haiku is a form of poetry that focuses on a brief moment in time, and a sense of sudden illumination or enlightenment. A haiku is usually composed of seventeen syllables in three short lines. The first line often contains five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and the third line five syllables.

What is the difference between a haiku and a senryu? ›

Senryu is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 or fewer morae (or on) in total. However, senryu tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryu are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious.

How to write a senryu poem? ›

Similar to haiku, senryu generally consist of 17 syllables (also called morae) divided over three lines in a 5-7-5 pattern, though these guidelines were less strictly followed as time passed. Senryu differs from haiku in that it is not required to reference the seasons or nature.

What is the meaning of senryu poem? ›

: a 3-line unrhymed Japanese poem structurally similar to haiku but treating human nature usually in an ironic or satiric vein.

Do haiku poems rhyme? ›

Unlike other poems, haikus usually don't rhyme. Haiku (pronounced high-koo) is a type of short-form poetry that originated in Japan. Although the name haiku dates only to the nineteenth century, the form has existed for hundreds of years.

What is the most famous haiku poem? ›

1. “The Old Pond” by Matsuo Bashō One of the four great masters of Japanese haiku, Matsuo Bashō is known for his simplistic yet thought-provoking haikus. “The Old Pond”, arguably his most famous piece, stays true to his style of couching observations of human nature within natural imagery.

What are the three rules of haiku? ›

These rules apply to writing haiku:
  • There are no more than 17 syllables.
  • Haiku is composed of only 3 lines.
  • Typically, every first line of Haiku has 5 syllables, the second line has 7 syllables, and the third has 5 syllables.

What should you not do in a haiku? ›

DON'T repeat words or ideas that give the same meaning (“snowflakes” are “white”). DON'T add unneeded words to fill out a strict syllabic form. Aim instead for the short-long-short rhythm of the typical haiku. DON'T use unneeded metaphors and similes (for example, don't say "a blanket of snow").

How do you tell if a poem is a haiku? ›

What is a haiku? The haiku is a Japanese poetic form that consists of three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. The haiku developed from the hokku, the opening three lines of a longer poem known as a tanka.

What do you call someone who writes haiku? ›

Historically, in addition to "haiku poet" some English speakers use "haikuist", as do some Japanese when speaking in English. Japanese who support "haikuist" claim the word is formed as naturally as "novelist" and on one level, I agree.

What is a cutting word in haiku? ›

Kireji: Known in English as the "cutting word," kireji creates a pause or a break in the poem's rhythm. The kireji often works to juxtapose two images. Contemporary haiku may not always use a kireji, but juxtaposition remains a common feature of haiku.

What are the topics of senryu poems? ›

Subjects tend to be related to human nature (as opposed to natural nature)--so romance, ironic human behavior, various relationships. Often, senryu try to spark a laugh or "knowing moment"

What does a haiku poem look like? ›

In fact, one way of defining a haiku is that it is a poem of 17 syllables in 3 lines, like this: 5 syllables in the first line. 7 syllables in the second line. 5 syllables in the last line.

Do senryu have titles? ›

Unlike haiku, senryu does not have to be about nature, although it's often about human nature. Like haiku, it follows the same number of lines and syllables and does not include a title.

What is a cinquain poem? ›

The cinquain, also known as a quintain or quintet, is a poem or stanza composed of five lines. More about the Cinquain Form. Examples of cinquains can be found in many European languages, and the origin of the form dates back to medieval French poetry.

How to write a diamante poem? ›

THE RULES OF A DIAMANTE
  1. Diamantes are seven lines long.
  2. The first and last lines have just one word. The second and sixth lines have two words. The third and fifth lines have three words. And the fourth line has four words.
  3. Lines 1, 4, and 7 have nouns. Lines 2 and 6 have adjectives. Lines 3 and 5 have verbs.

What is a concrete poem for kids? ›

What is a Concrete Poem? Concrete poetry—sometimes also called 'shape poetry'—is poetry whose visual appearance matches the topic of the poem. The words form shapes which illustrate the poem's subject as a picture, as well as through their literal meaning.

References

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