Preserve Your Memories by Writing Haiku

A retiree describes how writing haiku has enabled her to record observations of nature, and how you could use the form to preserve your memories too.

| November/December 1978

  • You don't have to use a bamboo pen to, but if you're writing haiku to preserve your memories it might add a touch of authenticity.

However delicate, fragile, and fleeting—indeed, the more so the better—you can always preserve your memories in a few short lines on a simple sheet of paper by writing haiku.

Just as a wok banishes a cluttered kitchenful of utensils, so the haiku (a small poem of Japanese origin) does away with expensive cameras, film, lenses, light meters, tape recorders, and bulky souvenirs. Once this simple form of poetry is mastered (and that's quite easy) any moment worth preserving can be captured quickly—anytime, anywhere —with nothing but a pencil and a scrap of paper.

I've kept a "nature diary" this way for over 20 years, preserving not only images made by light and shade, but color, movement, taste, touch, scent, and sound as well. Each such "memory"—with date and place of origin noted—is recorded in a notebook.

Though the birth of haiku (the word is both singular and plural) is lost in the mists of time, this particular form of poetry has so much abiding merit that it still flourishes today (just as it flourished in 760 A.D., when the first known anthology of some 4,500 Japanese poems was completed).

Technically, a haiku consists of 17 syllables. (Poems from the Japanese are frequently shorter or longer because of translation difficulties.) And, in those 17 syllables, the writer must capture an entire thought ... complete ... finished! Furthermore, exactly as in a good snapshot, this "picture" should be in focus, have a center of interest, and not lop off figurative heads at the edge. Yet even with its sharp limitations, one of these specialized verses can transport the reader into another mood. And so, give pleasure.

The haiku demands nothing in the way of rhyme, but the verse should have a rhythmic expression (though not in the set metric measures of English poetry). Each of these poems consists of three lines: The first contains five syllables; the second, seven; and the third, five again.

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