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LEARNING: the heart of a haiku | seasonal reference | part six

Written by Kala Ramesh

First published in Pune365, an online newspaper. May 21, 2024

the heart of a haiku

a space for a little poem

to weave its magic!

Part 6

seasonal reference

the kigo



 Being poetry of seasons and nature, haiku makes extensive use of seasonal references, although one can write haiku about nearly anything and one can write a haiku without a seasonal reference.

But ‘kigo’, the seasonal reference, and kire (the cut) are the two most important tools you need

to understand before stepping deeper into the art of writing haiku. (Refer to the previous essays on kire -the cut and kireji - the cut-marker.)

As a poetic tool, the seasonal reference or kigo creates a backdrop against which the action takes place. Kigo can be the name of a season (autumn, spring), or it can use words specific to a particular season, such as blanket, suggesting winter, or blossom, suggesting spring.

Season words collected for over a thousand years appear in a dictionary of sorts called the

‘Saijiki’ in Japan. I’ve heard that when a Japanese student goes to a ‘sensei’ (guru) to learn how to write a haiku, s/he is first given the saijiki to read and is expected to internalise how seasonal changes affect moods and the way that moods reflect the world around one — a great starting point for learning how to show respect and love for mother earth. (Click here to understand more about Japanese kigo words: The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words: )

Triveni Haikai India has been working on Indian kigo words.

But seasonal references appropriate to Japan may not resonate in India or other parts of the


Susumu Takiguchi, of World Haiku Club, states:

The real issue is whether or not finding local season words pertaining to specific climatic

and cultural zones or countries in the rest of the world would be possible, plausible,

desirable, useful or necessary in terms of making what is written as haiku more like haiku

or better haiku. The fact that many poets have thus discarded or dismissed kigo (some

have even condemned it as being no more than a weather forecast and not poetry) as

inapplicable or irrelevant has damaged haiku outside Japan and denied it cultural and

historical depth.

India has always been associated with nature - be it our harvest festivals such as Kojagiri

Poornima and Sankranti, or other festivals such as Holi and many more around the year. Many

well-known Indian classical ragas are associated with natural phenomena; for example, raag

Malhar with rain, raag Deepak with heat, and raag Basant with spring.

Adding seasonal references and cultural memory — bringing something very Indian into your

haiku — will create greater resonance for all your readers who understand the cultural

connection. Here is an example: amavasya (no-moon night) comes every month, so how do we place the haiku (below) in a particular season? From the flowing rivers, the reader will know which no-moon night I am talking about – the one immediately after our monsoons. Can you picture Ganga gushing and curving down the mountain slopes?

amavasya …

the river flows on sounds

      the river makes

— Kala Ramesh

the long night …

an old woman’s loneliness

follows me home

— Karen Cesar, USA

the long night refers to winter — when the sun sets early and takes its time to rise. Note how lines 2 & 3 resonate with the seasonal reference in line 1 (the long night). The poem leaves things unsaid for the reader to make the connect.

deafening rain —

to think it has no sound

of its own

— Kashinath Karmakar

In this haiku, which won third prize in a major Japanese haiku contest, the phrase “deafening

rain” tells us it is monsoon. In India, we are familiar with this word and all that it evokes for us -- our rivers begin to flow like raag Malhar; the hills turn green; there are smiles on farmers’ faces; and school begins in many Indian cities when the monsoon hits the headlines!

Now enjoy a few haiku which show strong seasonal references: Can you notice how well the

seasons are woven into the story and the scene? If the kigo is just added on, superficial,

synthetic, not natural and intrinsic to the poem, then it becomes like a ‘kireji’ (the cut-marker/

the punctuation) that is just added to a fake ‘kire’ (cut). The images resonate with the kigo word

and elicit the readers’ seasonal and cultural memory. Beauty arises from the balance of images in the subtle, nuanced art of storytelling.

I’ve chosen a few of my favourites for you to ponder …

nagasaki …

in her belly, the sound

of unopened mail

— Don Baird

  winter starlight

 the sound of the tuning fork

  goes on forever

— Lorin Ford

cold evening —

changing my teacup

to the other cheek

— A. Thiagarajan

steeping tea

the time it takes to lose a street

to snow

— Ben Moeller-Gaa

poppy garden …

in and out of the flowers

the child’s red cap

— Keiko Izawa, Japan

spring dawn

I put on

my gender

— David G. Lanoue

By the way, did I hear you say ‘haikus’? Haiku is both singular and plural. A hundred haiku

remains a hundred haiku! My special thanks to Jenny Angyal for editing and proofreading this column.


Challenge: Post a haiku using a kigo word. Only two allowed for this essay. Give reasons why you have used a particular kigo word.


The copyright of the haiku rests with the authors. Copyrights of the title and the page rest with Kala Ramesh

Publishing Credits:

the long night: Modern Haiku 45.3

deafening rain: 18th Kusamakura Haiku Contest

nagasaki: Haiku Now! International Haiku Contest 2013

winter starlight: Presence 45

cold evening: The Heron’s Nest IX.2

steeping tea: The Heron’s Nest XV:2

poppy garden: The Heron’s Nest VIII.2

spring dawn: Modern Haiku 44:3



Kala Ramesh - Poet, editor, anthologist, and festival director, Kala’s initiatives culminated in founding INhaiku' in 2013 and in 2021 she founded the Triveni Haikai India to bring Indian haiku poets under one umbrella. A foremost practitioner and pioneer in the field of haikai literature in India, her book ‘Beyond the Horizon Beyond’ Haiku & Haibun, was awarded a Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize Certificate for ‘excellent contribution to literature’ in 2019. In July 2021, HarperCollins is publishing her book of tanka, tanka prose and tanka doha.

148 views27 comments


Kanji Dev
Kanji Dev
3 days ago

Thanks so much for this brilliant essay, Kala. Your guiding words continue to deepen my appreciation of haiku _()_


#2, 27/5

Kigo: pazhaya soru/ fermented rice / Panta bhat

early dawn

a gleam of harvest

in the pazhaya soru

Lakshmi Iyer, India

Feedback please


Fermented rice is rich in microflora, which acts as a probiotic. This helps in curing gut-related problems and provides better immunity, good digestion, and glassy skin and hair. Besides, fermented rice acts as an electrolyte, thus curing fatigue, weakness, and dehydration. This is also called Panta bhat in Bengali.

Replying to

Thank you, Lakshmi.

Waiting for you :))


#1, 27/5, thanks to Alan. I would love to change to 'soft rain' in Line 1 thought did like Alan's suggestions. The drizzles are very soft and the feeling is like to be under a medium shower.

soft rain . . .

the splash of colours

from the siren



Kigo word : silent rain

silent rain . . .

the splash of colours

rings from the siren

Lakshmi Iyer, India

Feedback please

Here, I wanted to show that rain does fall silently too. And even then, the siren of the ambulance vibrates its colours all around.

The word ' siren' immediately rings in our brain as of the ambulance and what it knows of silence around. It splashes…

Replying to

Cool! It might not be the 'final' version, but it moves it along maybe. 😎



the last one melting

in the snow-jerk’s grip

cola float

Alan Summers

The Pan Haiku Review Issue 2  (New Year’s Eve/Winter 2023)

Kigo Lab Special ed. Alan Summers

snowjerk or snow-jerk

A snowjerk is a snow chaser, as the snow decreases in some geographical areas, and increases in other areas. Snow will soon be like diamond dust.

Is snow on the verge of extinction?

In general, we should assume that winter will bring less and less ice and snow in the future. Soon, maybe it will even be goodbye winter! In times of climate change, it is increasingly difficult for snow and permafrost. yourweather dot co dot uk 16 Jan 2022

Snow’s impact on Earth

Seasonal snow cover is the…

Replying to

Love this one Alan, an original way to highlight snow. I love snow and hope our winters continue, the beauty of snow is so magical.



a daffodil sky

the long reach

of dawn

Joanna Ashwell


Feedback welcome

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