The haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. It's short and sweet, and English speakers usually define it by its number of syllables (and maybe say it has to be about nature). I may have been the Haiku Champion of 7th grade English class, but I have forgotten what the precise requirements of an English haiku are (since English "syllables" and Japanese "on" are not identical). So here they are:
- 17 syllables, broken into three "lines" of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.
- A "seasonal reference" that apparently should be drawn from a set list of words (but not necessarily nature-related)
- The juxtaposition of two images or ideas
As I said above, our English teachers say that a haiku has 17 syllables, but that's not exactly true to the Japanese form, simply because the languages are written and formed so differently. This same problem applies to Hebrew: It's like the translation of a translation of the original quote. But we can still try it.
The first issue is the problem that there isn't three "lines." However, you can make three lines. Following traditional practice, Hashem is substitute for the word used in prayer, as is Elokeinu. Hashem should be treated as having 3 syllables for our experiment.
I find this three line breakdown convincing. So let's start counting syllables.
The sheva "half-vowel" in the word Shema is the make-or-break here. If you think of She-ma as two syllables, you reach a different result than if you think of Sh'ma of one syllable.
So if you use She-ma, you have 5-7-5. A haiku structure.
But if you slur together the word into the one syllable "Sh'ma," you have a different outcome: 4-7-5. Not a haiku form.
There is a large, but well-defined, list of words that qualify as a "seasonal reference," and they're not all nature-related. According to Wikipedia (yes, yes, I am citing the Wiki of Evil), the most common categories are
- The Season
- The Heavens
- The Earth
Some Google snooping reveals many entries for "festivals" and "observances." Under those categories, there are entries for various gods of the harvest or season, etc. So perhaps discussing Hashem fulfills this requirement, but this isn't determinative without the help of someone more knowledgeable than myself.
I would argue that this quality is fulfilled. When the Shema was written, the idea of "god" and the singular were considered very divergent ideas. Their juxtaposition would have shocked many of the polytheist societies at the time.
So what do you think? Haiku or not? Deep revelation or cheap trick of a middle school English teacher? Does the Shema now have more meaning for you?