Haiku primer

I believe that God created the world. I believe that His creation was beautiful. It is beautiful. I think that we sometimes get glimpses of the original beauty through literature, art, and music. Given that backdrop, I wanted to teach you a bit about haiku.

Haiku is a Japanese small-verse form of poetry that is hundreds of years old. The Japanese poet who solidified the style was Basho (1644-1694). A traditional haiku contains three lines with the following structure:

  • five syllables
  • seven syllables
  • five syllables.

It traditionally uses nature to describe an unexpected relationship between two different objects, ideas, or moods. I enjoy the simultaneous simplicity and complexity. A good haiku is like a wrapped chocolate (I just used simile to describe haiku – my high school English teacher would either praise me or chastise me).

My favorites are those that unwittingly echo Biblical truths and reinforce scripture (haiku is closely linked with Zen Buddhism). Here’s an example. (It’s a translation, so please excuse the second line with eight syllables.)

Friend, that open mouth

reveals your whole interior

silly hollow frog!

– Anonymous, from Japanese Haiku, 1955, The Peter Pauper Press

The poet compares a frog’s wide mouth and his shallow thoughts to the revelation of a person’s heart by his words. This same idea is expressed in James 3:1-10 (my emphasis using the bold font, The Message translation).

Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.

A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!



About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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