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Haibun: Poetic Journey

by Dawn L. Stewart



Dawn L. Stewart

The form of Japanese poetry known as haibun first developed from a Japanese writer taking a journey and composing a diary of his travels in a mix of brief prose, haiku and sketches. Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is perhaps the master of haibun. During the last years of his life, he traveled by foot throughout Japan, writing of his five journeys in terse combinations of prose and haiku. Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North relates his five-month journey of 1,500 miles north of Edo in1689 where he wrote of the wilds.

Haibun is a combination of prose strong in imagery and at least one haiku. The prose in a haibun is trimmed to its essence just as a haiku is composed of few words chosen for their particular meaning. A haibun relates a journey, whether the travels are a physical exploration of the world or an internal journey of discovery. Often haibun contain a revelation or epiphany obtained through experience. The prose can reflect fragmented thoughts or complete sentences, but the sentences are tight with all the words serving a purpose. It is important to note that a haibun is not a short story.

Some traditionalists believe that haibun should be written with the prose portion first, ending with only one haiku. As more writers discover this form, the boundaries of style and format have grown to include more than one haiku interwoven with prose. The writer can arrange and intersperse the prose and haiku in whatever format suits the piece; however, the haiku is separated from the prose and written in haiku format. There is no set length to a haibun.

The haiku in a haibun does not have to relate directly to the subject matter. It is the reader who must decipher the link between the prose and the haiku — no explanation is necessary. The haiku connected to a haibun might be considered a microburst of detail.


Haibun relates a journey
Is a combination of prose and haiku
The writing is sparse, tight
With strong imagery
It imparts a revelation

Read a haibun by Dawn

© 2001 Dawn L. Stewart

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be copied or used in any way without written permission from the author.

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Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches


The Essential Haiku; Versions of Basho, buson, and Issa


The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, share and Teach Haiku

Copyright 2000 Dawn Lesley Stewart