Building Balance Through Haiku
Daisetz Suzuki describes Haiku as "the shortest form of poem we can find in world literature.” Of Japanese origin, haiku is poetry reduced to its simplest form. Haiku deals with aspects of our normal, everyday existence with immediacy, forsaking pages upon pages of verse and commentary in a manner similar to the Japanese contemplative brush artists. Haiku, as a result of their brief nature, offer no instruction, but rather share a deep insight of the practitioner which then manifests in the mind of the reader as well.
Upon review of many works in Western literature, one also finds sections of poetry in English with sixteen to eighteen syllables fairly common. After further analysis, one realizes that sixteen to eighteen syllables is the longest line which may be read comfortably in one breath. If one looks at the songs written in the antique tongue used by poets Virgil in the Aenied and Homer in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, we find they use dactylic hexameters rather extensively. And in Longfellow's Evangeline, the meter consists of five dactyls and a trochee, with syllables varying from sixteen to eighteen. So it would appear the number of syllables that can be spoken in one breath is a natural length for haiku.
A little known fact derived from Buddhist scripture offers a somewhat similar notion for our seventeen syllable structure. Howard Stewart notes:
According to the Abhidhamma, or metaphysical section of the Pali Canon, the longest process of consciousness caused by sense perceptions consists of seventeen thought instants (cittakkhana) each briefer than a lightning-flash. Is it not significant in the light of this that a haiku should be composed of exactly seventeen syllables?