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Haiku (俳句) is one of the most important forms of traditional Japanese poetry. Haiku is a very short poetic form, usually (although by no means necessarily) consisting of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each, and usually containing a special word - the kigo - that indicates in which season the haiku is set. Some consider that it must also combine two different images which are related in the third line, be written in present tense and have a pause (the kireji or cutting word) at the end of either the first or second line. All such rules are somewhat arbitrary and are habitually broken by most poets, especially when adapted for languages other than Japanese.

The poet must be concise because of the brevity, while concentrating deep spiritual understanding into the poem. The haiku poet usually takes up the changes of nature which have impressed him or her in order to express the intangible world of the spirit.

Haiku is not written only by professionals. Anyone can learn to use the form, although like other forms of poetry it is difficult to master it.

Some famous Japanese masters of the haiku form include Matsuo Basho, Buson[?], Issa[?].

An example of classic haiku (by Basho):

An old pond!
A frog jumps in-
the sound of water.

Another Basho classic reads:

The first cold showers pour
Even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw

(N.B. that, at that time, Japanese rain-gear consisted of a large, round hat and a shaggy straw cloak.)

In early 1998, Salon (http://www.salon.com/) magazine published the results of a haiku contest (http://www.salon.com/21st/chal/1998/02/10chal2) on the topic of computer error messages. The winner:

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

However, this does not follow the traditional rules of haiku, let alone its spirit. This is more similar to the Japanese form, senryu as is much modern haiku. Haiku is often taught in Western schools, only without the strict rules, only the syllable format.

(A more up to date collection of computer "Haiku Error Messages" can be found at FunnyPoetry.com (http://funnypoetry.com/haikuerror.htm))

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