Allusive haiku

I’ve been reading a lot of haiku in English, and one thing I don’t see very often is literary allusion. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the things that gives Japanese short-form poetry such depth, saving precious syllables that otherwise would be needed to set the scene. It is of course risky, since it presumes a common knowledge that may well be lacking for many younger readers. It might make more sense to use pop culture references to extend the range of possible meanings in a haiku: way more people are going to get a line quoting Yoda than Tennyson. Still, it can be fun to write haiku that take their cues from lines of famous poems. Here are a few I just churned out.


 whose woods these are
a barred owl asks
nothing of me


        bone zero
        freezing in mid-stride
        at a snake-shaped stick


wild geese
this soft animal would love
another damn drink


        barbaric yawp
        you say the coyotes sound
        as if they're fighting


sunset and evening star
that smell of pine comes
from a bottle

I think the first and last of these best illustrate the point I’m trying to make. Readers who recognize “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” will picture a wintry night, and anyone who’s heard “Crossing the Bar” read at a funeral will fill in the implied setting of the last haiku. The other three simply riff on the source material.

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