Haiku is a Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. We will be following that form for the translation haiku. The difference, and novelty, of this version is that we will be performing a pseudo-ekphrasis based on words, sayings, or quotes. This prompt is virtually endless, but we will provide seven prompts to get you started.
Rules of Translation Haiku
- Pick a phrase, quote, or saying
- Translate it into a traditional haiku (5,7,5)
- Bonus points for including a kireji or kigo
Advantages of the Form
The haiku is one of the most fun forms of poetry to write. Its short, simple form allows the author to create beautiful snapshots of the natural world. The advantage of using the translation haiku is that you will essentially never run out of prompts. You could write poems based on sayings, quotes, advice, compliments, even insults. It’s a boundless form and a great writing exercise.
Challenges of the Form
The main challenge of the translation haiku is mainly the transformation of a saying into poetry. You must strive to transform the original enough to make it your own unique piece of art. When using a phrase or saying, it is easy to get mired down by the original language. Stay vigilant in your efforts to compose something unique and novel in your own voice! Additionally, writing with only seventeen syllables can often be challenging, but challenges are welcome here! Embrace it.
Translation Haiku Writing Prompts
Prompt 1 – Popular Phrases
Popular phrases abound, and you probably know a few yourself. Here are a few to get you started. Write a traditional haiku that translates these sayings into poetry.
- Actions speak louder than words
- Ignorance is bliss
- Better late than never
- You can choose your own if you prefer!
“better late than never”
the first fall of snow
quiet as a dark alley
on April thirteenth
Prompt 2 – Insult to Compliment
Take an insult you’ve heard or said and turn it into a complimentative haiku. If you’d like it to be therapeutic, take something negative you say to yourself and make it positive.
“You smell like onions”
Sure, I smell it too
Sweat stained armpits do stink
when you work real hard
Prompt 3 – Modern Wisdom
Today we’re going to update a bit of ancient wisdom from the Tao Te Ching
Quotes you can use from the Tao Teh Ching:
- “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
- “The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”
- “A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”
“A man with inner courage”
Pushing the boulder
is much harder than simply
letting it push you
Prompt 4 – Eavesdropping
Turn something you overheard recently into a haiku
“Just saw Oppenheimer”
Prometheus of this age—
a red moon rises
Prompt 5 – Haiku Headlines
Turn a recent news headline into a haiku
Recent headlines you can use:
- US and Australia insist political tussle will not damage submarine deal
- Colombian president’s son arrested on money laundering charges
- Young South Koreans are embracing fractional investing
Below an azure sky
submarines swim together—
schools of iron fish
Prompt 6 – It’s 2023
Translate an ancient haiku into the modern age. Maybe the chirping bird becomes a phone notification or the light of the moon is replaced by the glow of a screen. Whatever will make the haiku feel like it’s from 2023.
Popular haiku you can use:
just enough to wet tiny shells
on the tiny beach
Again and again
stitching the rows of barley—
The rain in summer
enough of a drizzle to
fear water damage
Prompt 7 – Popular Science
Today we’re turning recent scientific breakthroughs into haiku to make them feel like ancient wisdom.
Here are some recent science headlines for inspiration. Feel free to use your own as well.
- “How Geometry Solves Architectural Problems for Bees and Wasps”
- “Some African Birds Follow Nomadic Ants to Their Next Meal”
- “Researchers Trained Snails and Found That When They Were Exposed to Multiple Stressful Events they Were Unable to Remember What They Had Learned.”
To think that bees build
architecture and don’t know