A Note On Haiku

by Acland Hart

Haiku are an elegant form of traditional short Japanese poems. Structurally, they comprise of three lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively. Typically they contain a seasonal reference or kigo, often widened to include weather or natural themes from that season. For example, blossom is a common theme in Japanese art and indicates spring and new life. Equally, they should contain a kireji, or cutting word. Already there is no equivalent of the kireji in English, it loosely involves using a word or suffixes with a theme of finality to bring emphasis and structure to the poem. As English lacks the wide array of such kireji, they are also often rendered as punctuation. The haiku below attempts to conform to these forms – but this is not always easy!


Depression                                              Stroke

Winter of my soul,                                      I know, it is mine.

My unwanted companion –                      But now it does not know me -                         

But pills light the end.                                My own arm has gone.


Melanoma                                                 Smoking

Sunshine                                                      Noble tobacco

Your sly caresses I loved                             You are killing me slowly

And now I do not.                                         So I just don’t care.


Childhood Disability                              Acne

Outside this body                                        Silver moon’s craters

You see a boy who can’t walk                     very like my ugly face

Though inside I fly.                                      Can be seen by all.


Dementia                                                   Heroin

Sunlit days of youth                                     Sweet poppy centre

I remember so clearly                                  I know I should not love you

My wife I cannot.                                         But with you I feel.              


I have been privileged to see a wide array of cases. It seemed unreasonable to focus on any one case, as so many were so memorable. For this reason I chose the simple, yet complex, form of haiku to bring to life some of the cases that I have seen. The brevity of the haiku leaves a lot to the imagination and it is possible to read a great deal ‘between the lines’. Thus, in ‘Heroin’ we can infer guilt and wonder why it is there and we can also infer the spiritual deadness of the user and again, we can ask why that is so. In this way, haiku can become an agent of one’s own enquiry, empathy and imagination –areas, which as doctors we should all be exploring.

Whole Person Care, Year Four


Egho Ireo

03 March 2011 - 12:51:01
"I learnt a lot more about constructing haiku from your entry and I found them particularly striking & evocative to read, especially, as you said, because of the confined structure and everything that is left unsaid. I do wonder however how differently, if at all, I would have responded to some of the haiku, if they were isolated from their respective titles. Thank you"

Abi Richards

25 October 2017 - 21:36:15
"These haikus are extremely well written and capture the illness'/medical problems very well. They are written in a such a way that you can guess what they are about without the presence of a title."

Gabby Cruickshank

29 October 2017 - 17:38:33
"Beautifully written and interesting that each disease has such a distinct identity - haikus are perfect for those almost snapshots."

Niamh Roberts

01 November 2018 - 21:06:31
"I really enjoyed these Haiku because they covered a range of different conditions and summarised them so beautifully. I really liked some of the imagery in the haiku (for example 'silver moon's craters') as it made me think of the conditions in different ways. The one about heroin was really provacative, as it highlighted how heroin can make someone feel even though they know it is bad for them. Overall, I found this poetry beautifully written and thought provoking. "

Nelima Hossain

04 November 2018 - 09:20:50
"Thank you on this beautiful insight on what a haiku poem is. Before this, I had no idea what a haiku poem was. I love the interpretation of the common and different diagnoses portrayed here and how well you have captured the patients' perspectives. As you said, this also provides an incentive for doctors to explore empathy and imagination, have a more holistic approach to patients' diagnoses and discover how patients themselves feel about their lives with their disease. A very moving piece. "

Hugo Hawes

05 November 2019 - 07:26:25
"Haikus were perfect for exploring such a range of conditions in a brief yet in depth way. This made me think of these conditions in ways I hadn't before, particularly 'Heroin'."