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What Is Haibun Poetry?

Haibun is a  poetry form that combine haiku with a prose poem. Haibun prose is usually descriptive. It uses sparse, poetic imagery to evoke a sensory impression in the reader. The section of prose is then followed by a haiku that serves to deepen the meaning of the prose, either by intensifying its themes or serving as a juxtaposition to the prose’s content.

The first recorded use of the word haibun came in the seventeenth century from Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. Basho popularized the haibun form, writing haibun poems as part of his ongoing travel journal. The most famous of these traditional haibun poems is Oku no Hasomichi, or “Narrow Road to the Deep North” (also translated as “The Narrow Road to the Interior”).

What Are the Characteristics of Haibun Poetry?

The subject matter of a haibun can vary widely, though the prose sections commonly describe an unfolding scene, a slice of life, a character sketch or a special moment. Haibun prose can be written in first-person singular, first-person plural, or third person.

The accompanying haiku usually appears at the end of the haibun composition, though in some cases it may appear in the middle or at the very beginning. The haiku is meant to be in conversation with the prose section and serve as a thematic accompaniment that deepens the meaning of the piece as a whole.