HAIKU, a Japanese poetic form adopted and employed by Iranian poets since the second half of the 20th century.

Combining form, content, and language in a meaningful yet compact form, the haiku existed as an independent poetic form in Japan since the 19th century. It has impacted poets the world over, although it has only been a few decades since its influence on Iranian poets and writers has become significant. The traditional Japanese haiku poem’s form is defined as consisting of three non-rhymed lines based upon the syllable pattern 5-7-5, a total of 17 syllables, called on or onji. A haiku usually employs at least one element from nature by name; e.g. cherry blossom, cloud, mountain, and often a kigo, ‘season word,’ as well. It also often conveys an ephemeral feeling or a mood, reminiscent of a journey that only lasts an instant.

The first translations of Japanese poetry into Persian appeared in literary magazines in the 1950s. Of these, perhaps most noteworthy were the translations from French by Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980; q.v.) of seven tankas (Soan, 6:8, 1955, pp. 703-04), a Japanese poetic form from which the haiku emerged as an independent verse. These were later followed by the publication of other translations of haiku (Soan, 6:9, 1955, pp. 761, translator unknown). Although Sepehri’s own poetry cannot be described as renderings of haiku or tanka, the language in some of his poems, in particular in the collection Šarq-e anduh (East of sorrow, 1952), frequently recalls the minimalist simplicity of haiku (Sarshar; ʿĀbedi, p. 34). Among the most extensive Persian translations of this Japanese form is Hāiku: šeʿr-e žāponi az āḡāz tā emruz (Haiku: Japanese poetry from the beginning to the present, 1982), by Amad Šāmlu and ʿAskar Pāšāʾi. Although several haiku collections have appeared in Persian translation since that time, it is only since the 1990s that haiku has been indigenized and used as a poetic form by Iranian poets.

In 2002, Kāva Gowharin (b. 1955) published his Hāiku-hā-ye Irāni (Persian haiku). It was followed by the publication of Ḵodāy-nāmak (The Lord’s book), his second haiku collection, in 2006. Qomri-e ḡamḵᵛār dar šāmgāh-e ḵazāni: hezār o yek hāiku-ye Pārsi  (The sad dove in the autumn eve: One thousand and one Persian haiku), by Sayyed ʿAli ālei (b. 1955) was published in 2008. More ambitiously preoccupied by haiku than many of its other practitioners in Iran, these two poets have interpreted the role and purposes of haiku in different ways, and their compositions are dissimilar in form as well as content. Gowharin has stayed true to the three-line structure of the traditional Japanese haiku, but has not always followed either the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern or the thematic conventions of this migrated genre. Of particular note are some of his latest haiku, in which elements of nature are substituted by urban imagery, and a sardonic tone clouds over the poet’s vision:

Jamāʿat-e rowšanfekr!

(Assembly of intellectuals!

miyān-e dud-e kāfa nešasta-and

Sitting in the midst of smoke in a cafe

ziyārat-e ahl-e qobur āmada-im.

We have come to visit the people of the graves.)

(Gowharin, 2006, p. 46)

By juxtaposing the bipartite structure of the haiku, and displaying the hidden similarities between oppositional images, Gowharin conveys the undifferentiated unity of nature, and the organic rules governing the cosmic order.

Karkasān-e osteḵān-ḵˇār

(The bone eating vultures

ranghā rā mifahmand

Understand the colours.

ranginkamāni dārand bar sina amāyel

There hangs a rainbow from their chests.)

(Gowharin, 2002, no. 45)

His poetry, which draws out the beauty of nature even in hideous places and objects, resonates strikingly with some of Sepehri’s most popular poems:

Man nemidānam ke čerā miguyand asb ayvān-e najibist / kabutar zibāst / Va čerā dar qafas-e h kasi karkas nist

 (I don’t know why they say that the horse is a noble animal, the pigeon is beautiful / And why nobody keeps a vulture in his cage; Ṣedā-ye pā-ye āb, 2000, p. 291)

ālei, like Gowharin and many others, discards the syllabic limits of the genre. Unlike Gowharin, however, he often maintains the sensations of nature, as well as the imagery and intensity of the moment as essential attributes of his haiku:

Rāh-e šabnam-puš-e kuhestāni

(The dew covered mountain road

rama-i zir-e baluṭ-e bozorg

A herd has gone to sleep

be ḵᵛāb rafta ast.

Under the big oak tree.)

(ālei, p. 2)

Many of his haiku reveal a Persian ambience through the skillful deployment of imagery:

Baʿd az bārān

(After the rain

ʿaṭr-e berenj o hizom-e nim-suz

The scent of rice and half burnt wood

yek piyāla čāy, yek piyāla čāy.

A cup of tea, a cup of tea.)

(ālei, p. 1)

Hamrāh bā bād (Walking with the Wind, tr., Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak and Michael Beard, Cambridge, 2002), and Gorg-i dar kamin (A Wolf Lying in Wait, tr., Karim Emami and Michael Beard, Tehran, 2005) are two bilingual haikuesque collections of poetry by ʿAbbas Kiarostami (ʿAbbās Kiārostami, b. 1940), the internationally noted film director, photographer and poet. Although Kiarostami has discovered in Japanese haiku a form that matches the immediacy of his cinematic images (Khazeni, http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/37/BOOKSKiarostami.htm), he disregards in most of his poems the traditional three-line limits of the genre:

In jādda

This road


Has been abandoned

matruk ast

For many years

hanuz nemidānand

Though the wild flowers

golhā-ye vaḥši-e odru

Do not seem to know

 (Kiārostami, 2005, p. 167, no. 289)

Tat-e taʿqibam

I am being pursued

ba sāya-i ke dar kudaki

by a shadow that was my playmate

hambāzi-e man bud

in childhood;

bā man bozorg šod

it grew up with me,

bā man ḵamida šod

it grew old with me,

ma-rā taʿqib mikonad

it will continue


to pursue me

tā gur

to the grave.

(Kiarostami, 2005, p. 172, no. 298).

However, most of his poems, like the traditional Japanese haiku, distill and deliver the immensity of a particular moment. Their photographic overtone often loads the last line of the poem with a surprising effect or a punch line:

Do māhi-e qezelālā

A pair of trout

ḵofta dar kenār-e ham

lying side by side

dar bastar-e sefid-e bošqāb

on the white bed of a serving dish.

(Kiarostami, 2005, p. 158, no. 273)

The impact of Japanese haiku on Persian poetry, perhaps initially part of a more expansive fascination with Japanese culture and aesthetics, soon evolved into a stylistic challenge to modernist Persian poets who welcomed the brevity and compact formulation of the form, as well as its usually simple, plain language. With the shifting focus of Persian literature from the socio-political concerns of the 1950s and 1960s to subtler, more individual, and more romanticised means of expression through the 1980s and 1990s, haiku has finally established itself as a veritable form in Persian poetry. Several Persian poets have greeted haiku as a nexus, linking Japanese Buddhism and Persian mysticism or neo-Sufism.

Persian haiku poems, diversified as they are in content and form, share distinct qualities, which distinguish them from šeʿr-e now or šeʿr-e kutāh, signaling a break with the formal features of Persian poetry. Although they discard the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic pattern of Japanese haiku, characteristically attributed to the distinct compactness of the Japanese language, they generally follow the three-line pattern of their Japanese progenitor. They convey either the emotion or mood of a moment, or a moralistic, philosophical or religious message, and rarely welcome colloquial language or slang terms.

Persian haiku has already attracted many followers in Iran and elsewhere. Apart from numerous collections of Persian haiku and translations into Persian of haiku poems from other languages (see below), several websites are dedicated to Persian haiku and function as forums for discussing and exchanging haiku poems (see below).


Selected haiku translation into Persian.

ʿAskar Pāšāʾi, Ṣad hāiku-ye mašhur, (One Hundred Famous Haiku, selected and translated into English by Daniel C. Buchanan), Tehran 1990.

Kāva Gowharin, Hāikuhāʾi barā-ye gorba: Sara Chan (Sara-Chan: cat haiku by Lucette M. Oostenbroek) Tehran, 2006. The book is edited by Sahand āab Divāni.

Mahvaš Šāheq and Šahlā Soheyl, Hāiku dar čahār faṣl (One Hundred Famous Haiku, translated into English by Daniel C. Buchanan, Japan, 1976), Tehran 1994.

Niki Karimi, Nur-e māh bar deraḵtān-e kāj: Zen hāiku (Moon in the Pines, translated into English by Jonathan Clements), Tehran 2005.

Zoyā Pirzād, Āvā-ye jahidan-e ḡuk (selected and translated from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse, translated into English by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, 1964, as well as One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, translated into English by Kenneth Rexroth), Tehran, 1992.

Selected haiku websites.

http://walnut.blogfa.com/ Accessed 10/20/09.

http://www.ahapoetry.com/ahalynx/163essay.htm Accessed 10/20/09.

http://www.ahapoetry.com/ahalynx/163essay.htm Accessed 10/20/09.

http://www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol16/behnam/index.html Accessed 10/20/09.


Kāmyār ʿĀbedi, Do resāla dar bāra-ye Sohrāb Sepehri, Tehran, 2008.

Kāva Gowharin, Hāiku-hāye Irāni, Tehran, 2002.

Idem, Ḵodāy-nāmak, Tehran, 2006.

Dorna Khazeni, “Walking with the Wind: Poems by Abbas Kiarostami,”


ʿAbbās Kiārostami, Gorg-i dar kamin / A Wolf Lying in Wait, tr. Karim Emāmi and Michael Beard, Tehran, 2005.

Idem, Hamrāh bā bād / Walking with the Wind, tr. Michael Beard and Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Cambridge, 2002.

Seyyed ʿAli ālei, Qomri-ye ḡamḵᵛār dar šāmgāh-e ḵazāni: hezār o yek hāiku-ye Pārsi, Tehran, 2008.

Amad Šāmlu and ʿAskar Pāšāʾi, tr., Hāiku: šeʿr-e Žāponi az āḡāz tā emruz, Tehran, 2008.

Houman Sarshar, “Sepehri, Sohrab”, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 15 August 2009, available at www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sepehri-sohrab.

Sohrāb Sepehri, Hašt ketāb, Tehran, 2000.

Idem, tr. “Ašʿār-e Žāponi,” Soḵan, vol. 6: 8, pp. 703-704, 1955.

(Eva Lucie Witte)

Originally Published: January 7, 2011

Last Updated: January 7, 2011