Winter, with its brisk winds and cold temperatures, can be a natural time of quiet and reflection. Writers know each season speaks in its own voice, and those differences are a natural stairway to inspiration. The Japanese poet Basho heard and accepted winter’s voice, and he captured its essence in poetry. Basho, simply and eloquently, wrote, “Winter solitude/In a world of one color/The sound of wind.”
Season’s distinctive nature
In Basho’s haiku, he isolates the distinctive nature of winter with its elegant, white blanket of snow. He doesn’t turn away from either the harshness or the beauty in its nature; instead, Basho moves into the possibilities of winter, entering its richness with the evocative addition of winter’s voice – the sound of the wind — to enhance his earlier, spiritual sense of solitude and singular color.
Essence of direct metaphor
Haiku is about essence offered with natural simplicity. Traditional Japanese haiku is built on three lines with a syllable structure of 5-7-5. The seventeen syllables, in the original Japanese language, are foundational. However, in American language haiku, syllables are not as important as the succinct capture of sensory imagery, done as direct metaphor.
Zen connection is archetypal
Basho (1644-94) wrote with a true, Zen sense for nature. Within the seventeen syllables of haiku, he captured an all-encompassing sense of nature’s significance, its universality and balance. In Japanese terms, it is Zen. In psychological terms, that universality is what Carl Jung termed as archetype, the language of the unconscious that crosses all cultures.
Reality and truth
Several hundred years later, Shiki (1867-1902) defined two elements of haiku: shasei and makoto. In shasei, the poet Shiki recognizes the realism of haiku, its ability to capture an essential sense. The second element of makoto brings to haiku its element of “truthful feeling.” It recognizes haiku’s ability to capture significance so directly that a feeling of archetypal truth is conveyed.
Of winter, Shiku once wrote, “Such silence:/snow tracing wings/of mandarin ducks.” There is a powerful sense of winter’s reality conveyed in the cold, silent flight of mandarin ducks through falling snow. The image is sure and true enough to carry with it the significance of flight and journey as metaphors of life cutting through winter’s cold and silence with the color of wings. There is not only a sense of journey, but an insight of courage shown against the inevitable nature of the winter season.
Try your own winter haiku. If the structure of 5-7-5 helps you, then use it. If it hampers the imagery and meaning of your writing, then simply seek the succinct simplicity of direct metaphor and meaning. The key is to look for imagery that holds the significance of what winter brings to you.
- Explore the winter season with your five, physical sense
- Enter the season’s natural details to find a connection
- Reflect on your winter image and its connective elements to establish a universality, a meaning that integrates naturally and gives the haiku its eventual power
Take a winter walk outside, looking with all your senses. Let your sight absorb individual and connected details. Taste and smell the wintry environment that surrounds you, whether it is rural or country, home or travel.
Stop and touch what winter, itself, is bringing to the world. Listen to the world’s winter voice, its sounds and its silences. When you come in, bring those elements together in a single metaphor that reflects a facet of the meaning of winter.
Writing the haiku
This part is personal. Some writers like to take a journal with them. The details they jot down on a walk are phrases that become leaping off points for later writing. Others like to reflect internally and return home to free write or create a draft. Drawing from the various sources of experience builds your writer’s toolbox.
Every writer’s imagination has a familiar path, but that same, individual imagination welcomes experimentation. Try both ways, and you may find yourself with multiple pieces of equal merit and depth.
Sharing the words
Here is one of my own haiku (priorly published in my full length collection of poetry Blood Trail), and inspired from a winter moment in a blue-gray dawn.
Silent, dawn flight
great blue heron sky
the color of his wings
I invite you to share your words, too. Use the comment space at the end of this article to share what you create. Words are enriched by audience, and publishing out can build your insights with audience response.
Further reading and learning
To read more haiku, go to the digital library of the Haiku Foundation that offers free availability of a good assortment of English language haiku. Or, explore the online collections of The Haiku Society of America.
Also, the Haiku Foundation makes available an online bibliography of haiku materials compiled by Modern Haiku editor, Charles Trumbull.
Form can be freedom
Creative writing is built upon the connection of self and imagination. Even if poetry is not your usual genre, the exercise of haiku opens up your creative mind. Just as the voice of winter speaks in the sound of the wind, the voice of self-discovery can speak in the language of the creative mind, the voice of imagination.
After all, as noted science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, once indicated, life is “trying things to see if they work.” It’s winter, but let your imagination come out and play.
Find the take in this article to be helpful? The writer is a former US National Technology and Learning Teacher of the Year, a former US Web-based Education Commissioner during the Clinton administration, and former Vice President of Global Knowledge Exchange, as well as a published author. To keep current on similar articles, view the suggested links below and click the free, “subscribe to get instant updates” link at the top of this article to get a conveniently customized news delivery.