Open #midnighthaiku

Writing this, I came up against one of those thorny questions in language; how may syllables in ‘hours’? It is not the only word to be so confusing, nor is there any definitive help in the dictionaries. Opinions vary, so does pronunciation depending upon regional or national accent…and so does the usage of those poets upon whom we might depend to point the way. Shakespeare, for example, seems to use it as both monosyllabic, disyllabic and sometimes as whatever floats the reader’s literary boat.

There are other words that offer the same problem… things like ‘fire’ and ‘flower’. In poetic forms where syllable count matters, they can be a nightmare for the writer…and a big red target for critics whose pronunciation or rendering of the poem differs from that of its creator.

In the established ‘English form’ of haiku… itself a variant and interpretation of the much older and more complex Japanese form… the 5-7-5 ‘rule’ of syllabic counting is approved as the norm. It is not, however, the only way to write haiku and other forms are both accepted and celebrated. Indeed, the Japanese may well have composed to a traditional count of seventeen, but the language counts sounds, not syllables.

…Although the word “on” is sometimes translated as “syllable”, one on is counted for a short syllable, two for an elongated vowel or doubled consonant, and one for an “n” at the end of a syllable. Wikipedia

Instead of agonising over syllable counts and tearing your hair out as you write, or pointing the proverbial finger at those poems which seems not to conform to ‘the rules’, perhaps we should, instead, look at the thoughts and layered ideas a verse contains and see beyond its form to its heart.

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. Carl Sandburg

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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33 Responses to Open #midnighthaiku

  1. ksbeth says:

    i so agree with just accepting the poem as is. i’ve struggled with the ambiguous syllable issue myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    Yes, why is poetry so mathematical? I love your idea of layered meanings in a verse… so true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I think the metre and rhyme in poetry has a lot to do with the way it can be held in memory. A ‘catchy’ chorus in a song need only be listened to once or twice and it stays with you. If poetry is used as a vehicle for teaching, like we still do in childhood, lessons can be learned before they are even understood… and preserved without need for explanation when couched in symbolic terms. I think poetrystems from very early teaching methods and may be why storytellers were once so revered.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Open #midnighthaiku — Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

  4. Great idea and information. Thx. 😉


  5. Makes me glad I don’t rhyme!

    I was thinking about “fire” which I pronounce as both one and two syllables, depending. Songs are very liberal about the whole sounds and syllable thing and I’ve heard “I” last three beats to the bar!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ritu says:

    Good syllable pounts raised Sue!


  7. jenanita01 says:

    Far too early in the day for technicalities… see you later!


  8. Magnificent, Sue. 🙂 — Suzanne


  9. dgkaye says:

    Beautifully written Sue. Words are tricky, and good points about counting syllables in certain words when you’re trying to stay true to a haiku. Is it flower or flow er? 🙂 xx


  10. Fuunily enough, I enccountered thi syllable problem recently when writing a haiku. As you mentioned, words can be pronounced in different ways so it confuses the issue!
    It’s the rhytm and flow of the haiku that I love, so am not bothered if it is one or two syllables awry!


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