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Haiku: Classic Japanese Short Poems

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Haiku is an ancient form of Japanese poetry. Its structure has become popular in other languages and today it is probably the best know form of poetry worldwide.

There are few rules to haiku, but they are strict: 17 phonetic sounds, a sense of cutting images or ideas, and a reference to a season. From those restrictions, poets have written about many things, from the year’s first blossom to aging, from mosquitoes humming to insects singing, from catching one’s shadow to crossing a stream in the summer.

Haiku features 90 classic poems from four poets: Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa and Masaoka Shiki which range across more than 200 years of Japanese poetry.

In Haiku, each poem is presented in Japanese script, along with romanized Japanese (romaji) and an English translation. Beautifully produced in traditional Chinese binding and with a timeless design, Haiku is an expert introduction and celebration of one of the most beautiful and accessible forms of poetry in the world.

96 pages, Chinese Binding

First published January 1, 2015

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Ilse.
449 reviews2,859 followers
December 1, 2021
The strength of serene simplicity

The oak tree
Stands unswayed
By blossoms

Such stillness -
The song of cicadas
Seeping into stone

(Matsuo Bashō)

This bilingual Japanese/English edition consist of a selection of 19 hokku/haiku from the quartet known as the four masters in the Japanese haiku tradition, Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) and Masoaka Shiki (1867-1902).

The English translation is juxtaposed with both the Japanese original text and a phonetic transcription, accompanied by an artwork of photograph which more or less match with the theme of the poem. The presentation includes plenty of blank space, making the poems come into their own more.

The poems, attentive to time and space evoke intensity of experience in the small form. Images are drawn mostly from common life, a seasonal reference (kigo) essential to it, giving a sense of the human place in the cyclical movement of the world and of the exposure and vulnerability of humans and animals to the elements, echoing transience, contingence, acknowledging the place of suffering for humans and animals, moments of being which the poets meet with compassion, understanding and a whiff of humour (Issa).

(Yusa Buson, Cuckoo flying over new verdure)

Haiku is not about impressing with verbal virtuosity or about the ego of the poet. Its strength does not lie in complexity, but in letting the moment speak to the maximum, sharing with a minimum of words a sensation, feeling or sudden inspiration in which the reader is involved.

Surprise and amazement arise from observing nature. Birds, insects, weather elements that affect the landscape allow to express the emotion of the moment.

Such joy in crossing
A summer stream
Sandals in hand

The one I yearn to meet
A footfall in the distance –
Fallen leaves

(Yosa Bushon)

In the introduction the translator clarifies he didn’t attempt to strictly respect the traditional form of the haiku (the seventeen syllables arranged 5-7-5) as translating into seventeen English syllables usually means excessive wordiness.

Play with me
Orphaned sparrow

Spiders in the corners
Fear not, I won’t
Be dusting

(Kobayashi Issa)


(Yusa Buson, A little cuckoo across a hydrangea)

Having received a digital copy from NetGalley, the delightful half an hour of serene simplicity, humour and beauty the collection offered felt well-spent. The book however is obviously meant to be read as a paper copy as a paper copy will probably do more justice to the visual and tactile experience created by the combination of Japanese calligraphy, the selection of suiting illustrations to pair with the poems and the use of traditional Chinese bookbinding techniques.

I was less enchanted by the mix of traditional and contemporary illustrations and photography which came across as slightly unequal and I missed attributions to time and artists, the picture credits mostly only giving information about the copyright holders.

House-bound in winter
Turning to my books before
Even washing my face

Settled on
The temple bell –
A glowing firefly

(Masaoka Shiki)

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the translator for granting me the chance to read an ARC of this book.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
700 reviews76 followers
August 7, 2021
This entire book, this particular publication, is an experience from start to finish.

The book itself is bound like older books; it is hole punched, then tied together. The pages themselves feel like parchment and are two pages folded back on the other. The haiku on the pages are printed in the original Kanji calligraphy, the Anglicized Japanese, and finally, in English.

The collection is short, but you don't mind because what you get is such a wonderful experience while reading it. The haiku themselves are witty, introspective, and philosophical from some masters of the art.

Heartily recommend this to anyone interested in haiku.
Profile Image for Rossdavidh.
507 reviews143 followers
July 25, 2020
I resist the urge to make this review a series of hacky haikus. I hope y'all appreciate how difficult that was for me to resist.

So, the first thing to acknowledge about this book is the fantastic binding. It's a style called Traditional Chinese, in which each page is a double sheet folded over, printed only on the outside, and the stitching is visible on the outside of the spine. It looks rather nice, and it was a pleasure to hold. I have not the historical knowledge to know if Japanese haikus were printed using Traditional Chinese Bookbinding techniques, but let's assume for the moment that the publisher did their homework on this point.

The haikus are presented, one per page, in English, Romanji (Japanese words using Latin letters), Kanji, and Hiragana; the first two horizontally, and the other two vertically. The paper is nice quality, and the use of black ink for the first two writing systems and dark red ink for the other two was nice. It felt peaceful just to open the book and look at it. I read it two pages per morning, at a spot by the river, which seemed to fit the subject matter.

The three authors were Basho (1644-1694):

In this bleak rain
Even the monkeys seem to want
Little straw cloaks

...Buson (1716-1784):

Settled on
The temple bell-
A sleeping butterfly

...and Issa (1763-1828), my favorite:

The winter fly I spared
Was captured by
The cat

Inevitably, it encouraged me to try my hand at making my own, but more importantly, after reading one or two each morning, there was a moment of calm stillness, when I would look out across the river and mentally pause for a short time.
Profile Image for Andrea Pole.
713 reviews114 followers
July 29, 2020
Haiku Illustrated by Hart Larrabee [tr] is a beautiful collection of haiku by four of Japan's most recognized and respected masters of the form. The ability to invoke such complete and detailed images in a brief seventeen syllables has always impressed upon me the beauty and accessibility of the haiku, a Japanese tradition of storytelling that has been shared for generations. The gorgeous illustrations that accompany each poem are a lovely addition to an already stunning collection. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in broadening their knowledge of the mysterious and beautiful Japanese culture.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Amber Books Ltd for the opportunity to read this impressive collection.
Profile Image for farith.
341 reviews456 followers
September 12, 2020
thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

sleeping spread-eagled
so refreshing
so lonely

beauty is sometimes found in the simplest of things and this book of haiku poems demonstrates it. the collection has some of the most famous poets from japan like matsuo basho, yosa buson, kobayashi issa and masaoka shiki. since this is a translation, the syllabus format gets lost a little, however it still has the power to transmit a strong feeling to the reader.

settled on
the temple bell-
a sleeping butterfly

6,104 reviews66 followers
August 1, 2020
Very great haiku book. It was great for various reason. The art was great, the way the haiku were presented was awesome, they always have one picture, and the haiku written in three way, the alphabetical Japanese, the English version and the original Japanese writing with their own «writing» not sure how to call it, but not the alphabetical one. So that was good in itself, but what was even better was the selection of haiku from, probably the most popular and talented haiku author like Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki and I think there a few more... Very good, very well edited and totally worth checking it out if you're into those kind of book (haiku or poetry).
Profile Image for Fiction O Phile.
287 reviews4 followers
October 3, 2021
Haiku, a Japanese poetry genre with ancient roots. Haiku is more than just 17 Syllables arranged 5-7-5. It is generally written on a single vertical line. Haiku often include a fragment and a phrase, the former indicated by 'kireji' (a cutting word or a dash -), such as 'ya' at the end of the firstline or 'kana' at the end of the third. Haiku mainly describes a moment in the present and include a 'season word' (Kigo). Poet amd reader are united by their shared experience of natire and the changing seasons, of ageing and the passage of time.

This is a pretty insightful genre for them who want to know more about Japanese culture. Those poetries alongside the illustrations were so soothing. Each poetry contains autumn's feels. If you don't know about Haiku then you should give this a read.

Thank you netgalley for the e-ARC
Profile Image for Nathaniel.
Author 20 books109 followers
May 2, 2022
No. You don’t understand. I’m OBSESSED.
These amazing haikus are paired with STUNNING art and the book itself is a piece of art. I am so happy I have this in my collection. Can’t recommend enough.
Profile Image for Mark Robison.
1,005 reviews73 followers
July 25, 2020
This is a good book to get as a gift for the haiku lover in your life. It's bound and printed in the printing method of old Japanese poetry books -- string literally used to bind it and pages printed folded over with writing on only one side. Wasteful but lovely. The pages themselves are beautiful with original characters on the side with subtle, more modern Japanese characters and the heart of the pages containing a single haiku in English.

As for the translations, they are almost uniformly excellent and distinctive. The initial ones from Basho made my heart swell. The translator tackles only the Mt. Rushmore of haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki; he covers their most famous haiku but also includes some lesser known ones. It's like a greatest hits album with some B-sides and live tracks.

I have two criticisms that are not major -- I loved what's here and wholeheartedly recommend the book to haiku fans -- but they niggle at me. The first is that I don't think he captured Issa. The haiku he chose are fine, but the Issa I love created some of the greatest poems of compassion and understanding of the vulnerable in the world but this did not shine through enough for me.

And the second niggle is the inclusion of Shiki. I just didn't like the person that came through in his haiku, and it made me realize that haiku and Chinese/Japanese poetry compilations -- especially those translated by men -- under-represent women. In my layperson's view, Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master is superior to Shiki yet her work is hard to find. She -- and the many other great female poets of China and Japan -- deserves better. Kenneth Rexroth and Patricia Donegan have some good books that fill this void.

Two excerpts -- the first two I flipped to randomly:

The crane's legs
grow shorter in the
early summer rain


to the rear wall
Even the snow is desperate

August 29, 2020
These haiku are so beautiful! I'm really glad I picked this book. The design is simply magnificent: gorgeous Japaneses style illustrations and poems in both English and Japanese (and even the kanji). This is my first time I'm reading haikus and I'm truly glad I chose this book to be the first one. Rating: 5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Elif.
943 reviews135 followers
December 21, 2020
This book made me realize again why I love haikus so much. Beautifully selected haikus with related and delightful pictures will make every reader smile. This edition will make an excellent gift who appreciate good art and haikus.
Profile Image for Angie.
161 reviews
January 19, 2021
3.5 I like how diverse my reading journey is so far this year. I started making Haikus growing up because of how Japan became part of Filipino history. I like how 3 short stanzas can each tell a story, it's so interesting and imagery was used very stunningly.
Profile Image for Raven.
13 reviews
December 11, 2022
Some of my faves: 20, 27, 37, 48, 53, 61, 63, 71, 72, 73, 75, 79, 84.

kono michi ya
yuku hito nashi ni
aki no kure

This road-
Travelled by no man
At autumn's twilight

Also the translators last name just reminds me of Humphrey Bogart as Linus Larrabee in Sabrina (1954). So now I’m gonna go watch that movie again 🖤obvs.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 1 book5 followers
December 27, 2019
Absolutely fantastic collection of haiku and beautifully bound.
Profile Image for Sara (onourshelves).
556 reviews12 followers
January 4, 2021
I read this very beautiful collection of Classic Japanese Short Poems with an ebook, and I am thinking about finding a print version I enjoyed them so much. While I enjoyed the poems by all authors, Issa's poems in particular spoke to me.
6,041 reviews67 followers
July 29, 2020
Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki – no, not scoring moves in combat sports, but four of the most famous writers of pithy little word pictures called haiku. This book gives roughly the equal attention to all four, as it pictorially presents a selection of the verses. Each time we get the Japanese, both in westernised script and in calligraphy vertically down the right of the page, as the natives would read it, and of course the plain, unformatted translation – never is the syllable structure of the haiku deliberately met, for it turns out there is always a token word or two in the Japanese for reasons that remained a little vague that would be left out if the sense of the poem was what was sought, as was the case here. At their best they're snapshots of vivid life, with snowy homesteads, multiple insects on multiple temple bells, and more frogs than you might think to find. One of the authors goes for what is a much more quippy style, making his pieces certainly a lot more amusing than Basho's classical ones.

These publishers cannot let a book slip by without a sterling work in the picture research, and while a couple of the artworks we also get – a full-page image for every three-lined poem – are not quite appropriate, and while a few are a little too literal, they are generally well-deserving of their place here. This then acts as a fine primer for the grand masters of haiku, and acts as a colourful gift book for anyone interested in verse forms – or, of course, Japan.
Profile Image for Hannah.
272 reviews41 followers
September 1, 2020
This book of haiku poetry contains the works of Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa and Masaoka Shiki. Published alongside some exquisite imagery, this book of haiku certainly gives you a peace of mind.

For those of you who don't know, haiku is a style of poetry that originated from Japan and has since become renowned worldwide. The structure of a haiku is seventeen syllables, that are broken down into lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables.


I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. All my opinions are my own, unbiased views.
872 reviews18 followers
September 24, 2020
A good selection of four poets with some sort of illustration to accompany it. Nice that there is the original Japanese text and the English text. One poem per page so there is white space.
Profile Image for Vani.
550 reviews13 followers
March 30, 2019
This is the first haiku poetry book I've read. Beautiful, evocative language. Reading it makes me feel the value of nature, silence, calm, and quiet contemplation of one's surroundings. I feel like these poems, written by four people between the 17th and early 20th century, has a sense of awareness that's sorely lacking in modern day life.
Profile Image for GONZA.
6,310 reviews106 followers
October 20, 2020
Although I already knew many of them them, in this new version with Japanese text on the front and relative illustration, these Haiku are, if possible, even more beautiful.

Anche se molti li conoscevo, in questa nuova versione con testo giapponese a fronte e illustrazione relativa, questi Haiku sono, se possibile, ancora piú belli.

Profile Image for Cindy Richard.
296 reviews9 followers
March 3, 2023
I have recently gotten back into writing haiku, and this book provided the perfect inspiration. This book is visually stunning! Bound in a traditional Chinese style (single sheets of paper printed on one side only, each sheet is folded in half, with the printed pages on the outside, then the pages are sandwiched between two boards + sewn together with thread), each translated haiku is accompanied by an illustration and the written text in Japanese on thick, cream colored matte paper. The haiku included in this book are by the most famous haiku poets - Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masaoka Shiki. It does not take long to read due to the brevity of this poetry form, but I will return to this book again and again for inspiration.
Profile Image for Carrie.
63 reviews4 followers
January 5, 2022
Previously familiar with Basho, I loved Buson and Issa’s work. They took me simultaneously to places I’ve been to long ago and unknown places I’ll never visit. However, there was no sadness to be experienced about any of this, only crisp and light stillness.

It’s surprising how even when understanding only the English translations, as a reader you can still feel the difference when the next haiku is by a different author. There are no obvious markings or chapters separating the works of different authors, so the moment of realisation usually comes from a pleasant self-reflection that you feel something slightly different.


97 reviews7 followers
November 15, 2020
I truly recommend this version: ISBN 9781782743873.
You have selected poems from 4 different authors: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, Masaoka Shiki.

The book is hard cover and has traditional binding.

Each page contains:
-- the author's name
-- the haiku in English
-- the haiku in Japanese (includes hiragana transcriptions on the kanji)
-- the haiku in Romanji (aka Latin alphabet, in case you want to see what it would sound in Japanese)

It really is a beautiful edition. You won't regret buying it.
Profile Image for Tim.
3 reviews
August 15, 2021
Having the Japanese alongside the English makes the reading experience much more powerful.
The old pictures are great and add a lot to the reading experience; the shutterstock images are disappointing and out of place.
The Chines style binding adds to the reading experience too.

And the poems: great.
I’ll come back to them often.

My favourite:

Of it’s approaching death
The cicada speaks
Not a word

Profile Image for Reed.
189 reviews5 followers
December 27, 2021
A pleasant and quick read.
And the binding of the book makes it very aesthetically pleasing (great for a coffee table book).
But I'd say this is more a good introduction to traditional Haiku.
I also felt the images were very stock-imagey, and didn't really have a matching style throughout.
It would have been nice if all the images were of traditional art from the time period, to tie it all together.
Profile Image for Indah Threez Lestari.
13k reviews232 followers
April 16, 2020
284 - 2020

Covernya sangat menarik, terutama untuk punggung bukunya.

Ini terjemahan bahasa Inggris dari kumpulan haiku klasik, jadi sudah sewajarnya kalau saya tidak usah protes kalau terjemahannya tidak mengikuti pakem haiku yang sebenarnya ditaati oleh haiku versi aslinya (yang di buku disajikan dalam bentuk kanji dan romaji).
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews

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