On a journey ill;
My dream goes wandering,
Over withered fields. --Basho
The first Japanese history, set down around 712 AD in the Kojiki, cite the first examples of lyric poetry in Japanese culture. Japanese poetry had its early beginnings in the style known as tanka, or "short form". This poetry (31 syllables, arranged 5-7-5-7-7) was an early form native to Japan. Up until the 16th century, nearly all poetry was composed in this form. The development from tanka to haiku, or "opening phrase", is bridged by another style, the renga, or "linked poem" (31 syllables, 5-7-5 three lines, 7-7 two lines). Two or more poets usually composed the renga. First a poet would compose the opening, followed by a second poet who would close the poem. Over time it became popular for poets to write only the first part. This eventually developed into haiku. Haiku poetry depicts a single image, is almost always naturous in theme, and usually contains 17 syllables (5-7-5).The only formal rule is the fixed number of syllables, and even this is sometimes violated. This page started out with only poetry written by haiku poets on the verge of death, but I have since expanded the contents.
I am always looking for more Japanese poetry to add to this site. If you have an authentic poem feel free to e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.