Metaphor in Haiku: A Poet’s Guide

Posted on Jul 13, 2023

Avatar Of P.j Mcnulty

Written by P.J McNulty

Home > Blog > Creative Writing > Metaphor in Haiku: A Poet’s Guide

You’ve explored Haiku, you’ve written some of your own, and now, you’re ready for the next level. 

Are you wondering how to infuse more depth into your Haiku, how to make your words resonate with your readers? 

You’re in the right place.

 Metaphor, the art of conveying complex meanings through comparative imagery, can add layers of complexity to your Haiku. 

Let’s look into the topic of metaphor in Haiku, and soon, your poems will be enhanced with richer, deeper meanings.

Understanding Metaphor

What is a metaphor? 

A metaphor is a figure of speech that identifies something as being the same as some unrelated thing for rhetorical effect, thus highlighting the similarities between the two. 

It’s a way to draw a comparison that goes beyond the literal, that suggests a resemblance or connection that’s more conceptual, symbolic, or thematic.

 In Haiku, a well-crafted metaphor can create a vivid image or imply a deeper meaning within a brief, concise format.

Importance of metaphor in poetry

The use of metaphor in poetry, including Haiku, is a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and emotions in an accessible, engaging manner.

 It’s like painting a picture with words – the reader not only understands your message but also experiences it. 

A metaphor can illuminate connections that aren’t immediately apparent, adding depth and richness to your work.

Mastering the art of metaphor in Haiku can transform your poems from simple observations to profound insights.

Use of Metaphor in Traditional Haiku

Let’s check out some real examples of metaphor as used by some of the most acclaimed masters of haiku. 

Examples of metaphors in the works of traditional haiku poets

1. “Winter seclusion – / Listening, that evening, / To the rain in the mountain.” 

Here, Bashō uses the metaphor of “winter seclusion” to evoke feelings of solitude and introspection. The “rain in the mountain” may symbolize a steady, calm state of mind, implying a deeper inner peace amidst isolation.

2. “A world of trials, / And if the cherry blossoms, / It simply blossoms.” 

In this Haiku, the “cherry blossoms” serve as a metaphor for life and its inevitable nature. No matter the “world of trials,” life unfolds as it should, mirroring the cherry blossoms that bloom regardless of circumstances.

3. “First winter rain – / even the monkey / seems to want a raincoat.” 

The “monkey” here could metaphorically represent humans and our shared experiences with the rest of nature. The desire for a “raincoat” may reflect our universal need for shelter and protection from life’s storms.

4. “The light of a candle / is transferred to another candle— / spring twilight.” 

This Haiku uses the metaphor of a candle’s light transferring to another, symbolizing continuity, legacy, or the passing of wisdom.

5. “A cicada shell; / it sang itself / utterly away.” 

Bashō uses the “cicada shell” as a metaphor for selflessness, the idea of giving one’s all—literally singing oneself away—into one’s art or duty.

6. “On the dry branch / a crow has landed / autumn nightfall.” 

The “crow” on the “dry branch” symbolizes loneliness or melancholy, accentuated by the setting of an “autumn nightfall,” a season often associated with decline or endings.

7. “No blossoms and no moon, / and he is drinking sake / all alone!”

The absence of “blossoms” and the “moon” could represent emptiness or solitude, yet the person drinking sake “all alone” might symbolize a choice to find joy or contentment in solitude.

8. “The old pond; / A frog jumps in — / The sound of the water.” 

The “old pond” and the frog’s jump symbolize the constant rhythm of life amid the stillness of time. It reflects a profound understanding of existence in a simple act of nature.

9. “A bee / staggers out / of the peony.”

The “bee” staggering out of the “peony” could serve as a metaphor for exertion or effort, illustrating how even nature’s creatures toil and strive in their daily lives.

How to incorporate metaphors in your own Haiku

Integrating metaphors in your Haiku begins with observation. 

Look at the world around you—nature, human interactions, your feelings. 

Think about the deeper connections or interpretations of these observations. 

How can they symbolize broader themes or emotions? Practice drawing these metaphorical parallels.

Remember, subtlety is the key.

 A well-crafted Haiku metaphor shouldn’t hit your reader over the head but instead, invite them to ponder and derive their own understanding.

Next, it’s about concision. 

Haiku’s limited syllabic structure demands brevity, so your metaphor must be compact yet potent. 

It might not be apparent at first glance, which adds to the allure of Haiku.

Be patient with yourself as you explore this technique.

Examples of metaphors in your own Haiku

1. “A lone maple leaf / falls in the quiet pond— / ripples of time.” 

The “lone maple leaf” and its fall could symbolize aging or the passage of time, with “ripples” suggesting the ongoing impact or influence of one’s life.

2. “Mountain in the mist— / obscured peak teases / the morning sun.” 

Here, the “mountain in the mist” may represent life’s mysteries or challenges, with the obscured peak teasing the sun symbolizing the allure of the unknown.

3. “Blossoms in the wind— / a dance of fleeting moments, / life’s silent whisper.” 

The “blossoms in the wind” could metaphorically reflect the transient nature of life, emphasizing its beauty and evanescence.

4. “Waves retreat from shore— / leaving behind bare footprints, / memories of summer.” 

The “retreating waves” and “bare footprints” could serve as a metaphor for passing time and the lingering memories it leaves behind.

5. “Cherry blossoms fall— / spring’s sigh gives way / to summer’s song.” 

The “falling cherry blossoms” could symbolize the end of a phase or period, signifying transition and the cyclic nature of life.

6. “Lamp in the window— / its solitary glow fights / the encroaching night.” 

The “lamp in the window” could represent hope or determination, battling the darkness symbolizing adversity or despair.

7. “Butterfly takes flight— / In its delicate flutter, / Dreams awakening.” 

The “butterfly” could serve as a metaphor for transformation or growth, its flight symbolizing the birth of new aspirations or the start of a journey.

Tips for writing metaphoric Haiku

  • Observe and reflect: Find connections in your surroundings.
  • Practice subtlety: Don’t make your metaphors too obvious.
  • Be concise: Every word must count.
  • Be patient: Allow your metaphor to evolve naturally.
  • Stay open: There’s no right or wrong metaphor.

The role of practice in mastering Haiku

Like any skill, mastering metaphoric Haiku takes practice. 

Write, refine, and write again. The beauty of Haiku lies in its brevity, but the challenge is in its depth. 

Don’t be disheartened if your first attempts don’t meet your expectations. 

Mastering metaphor in Haiku isn’t an overnight journey—it’s a process of continuous exploration, observation, and self-expression.

Embrace this journey and the unique voice it will help you discover. 

So, why wait?

 Pick up your pen, look at the world around you, and let the haiku metaphors flow. 

Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a commission if you click through to make a purchase.
Liked this post? Share it with friends!

Interested in working with us?

Book a free strategy call with our expert team!