The Defiling of Haiku: Morae
Haiku is one of the most popular forms of Japanese poetry. It has long been regarded as elegant, meaningful, and thought provoking.
Over the past one-hundred years the haiku poem has taken new forms and evolved into more styles and new meanings. But what hasn’t changed is the true form of haiku.
Many American students and amateur poets have learned from their mentors that a haiku poem consists of three lines with the first containing five syllables, second with seven, and the third with five once more. What they might not realize is this isn’t true. A haiku is not a set of three lines nor does it care about syllables as the Japanese language does not contain syllables comparable to English.
The haiku has long been butchered by the English language. A syllable is nothing but an uninterrupted sound. The word ‘jump’ contains two morae but so does ‘haiku’. In the English langauge, the two words are not equal.
A mora is the equivelent of a short syllable and is the shortest linguistic measure–a long syllable is two morae (the plural of mora) (for more info on morae) Thus, the word ‘jump’ contains two morae (j-ump) and the word ‘haiku’ contains three (ha-i-ku).
Morae are difficult to comprehend the English language in some cases. Words with unstressed codas are hard to determine the number of morae. Because of this, diregarding morae is seen as acceptable in most poetry corners.
With this beind said, the reason for mentors explaining haiku this way is easy to see: simplisity. It is easier to say a haiku has 5,7,5 syllables and not explain the true value the haiku holds.