haikuWinter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
– Basho

haiku: what it is, and why we love it

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that consists of a total of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five. The most renowned Japanese haiku poet is Basho (1644-1694.) He is definitively known as the haiku master, and many of his eloquent works are still available today.

Haiku traditionally evoke images of the natural world. This is a prominent cultural contextual theme in Asian literature – an inherent orientation of humanity as an integral and inseparable part of the natural world. With this comes an understanding of the interconnectedness among ourselves and the natural universe in which we live.  Poetry, and specifically haiku, is able to gracefully join humanity and nature into one existence by discreetly suggesting parallel human emotion in natural phenomena and emphasizing observations in nature that resonate with our human emotions.  This means that through poetic verse there is a way to write about our human experience – private, painful, beautiful, fulfilling, passionate, or something else altogether – with the subtlety of descriptive words about our surroundings. This awakens the senses and thereby reconnects us to our somatic experience.

Why we love haiku is manifold. We love that it encourages us to connect with the natural world and even to extrapolate occurrences in nature to our own human experience and vice versa.  This is largely what we are doing with acupuncture. We are tending to the fires, cultivating the earth, growing plants, keeping the water flowing around the rocks, and sometimes parting the clouds to gaze into the clear skies. These are the Five Elements of nature that are very much part of our bodies, as the organ systems are so aptly named in Chinese Medicine.

Haiku is succinct yet deep and rich.  We love that this also is such a beautiful metaphor for what we do as clinicians.  In acupuncture, we are preserving our resources in the most potent way with guidance from just a few small needles that are doing big work throughout the landscape of our bodies.  Writing haiku is a similar experience because the words are so minimal, yet the images and feelings are so powerful.

One of the intentions of the haiku writer is to invite the reader to participate. The reader is inspired and affected by the words that awaken both the senses and the emotions; but also, the reader is invited to complete the haiku themselves. Haiku is often written to be somewhat open-ended in its closing, and this is to invite the reader to engage with the poem and perhaps even finish it themselves with another haiku.

This is another way in which haiku resonates so clearly with acupuncture – and specifically with acupuncturists. In a certain way, the clinicians are conceivably the writers of the first haiku verse, via the selection and treatment of acupuncture points with needles and moxibustion. The recipient of the treatment is then invited to participate by engaging with their own energy, and therein write their own haiku.