A syllable is a ‘sound block’ or unit of ‘speech sound’ in a word, a stress if you like, normally incorporating a vowel (a, e, i, o, u), though sometimes also a ‘y’, as in the word ‘syllable’ itself, which has three syllables in it: sy-lla-ble.

Below is a poem printed twice, first as it appears on the page, and second as it is constructed syllabically, (note also how some words represent just one syllable, and how other words are made up of more than one):

Dance of the Dragonflies

Around the still lake the dragonflies danced

In a flurry of cobalt and green –

They buzzed their glass wings and blindly chanced

Skimming the water-sheen.


One hit the water then hurtled and skidded,

Seemingly out of control –

A pilot was drowned where the lily-pads lidded

The mantle which merged with the shoal.


The pilot’s son cried as he tried to forget

But leapt up with a new sense of hope

As he spotted a dragonfly, wings stuck with wet,

Drag itself up the bank’s sandy slope.


Dance of the Dragonflies

|A|  |round|  |the|  |still|  |lake|  |the|  |dra|  |gon|  |flies|  |danced|10

|In|  |a|  |flur|  |ry|  |of|  |co|  |balt|  |and|  |green| –                        9

|They|  |buzzed|  |their|  |glass|  |wings|  |and|  |blind|  |ly|  |chanced|                                                                                                                               9

|Skim|  |ming|  |the|  |wa|  |ter|  |sheen|.                                                                6


|One|  |hit|  |the|  |wa|  |ter|  |then|  |hur|  |tled|  |and|  |ski|  |dded|,                                                                                                11

|See|  |ming|  |ly|  |out|  |of|  |con|  |trol| –                                                7

|A|  |pi|  |lot|  |was|  |drowned|  |where|  |the|  |li|  |ly|  |pads|  |li|  |dded|                                                                                                  12

|The|  |man|  |tle|  |which|  |merged|  |with|  |the|  |shoal|.                       8

|The|  |pi|  |lot’s|  |son|  |cried|  |as|  |he|  |tried|  |to|  |for|  |get|11

|But|  |leapt|  |up|  |with|  |a|  |new|  |sense|  |of|  |hope|                          9

|As|  |he|  |spo|  |tted| |a|  |dra|  |gon|  |fly|,  |wings|  |stuck|  |with|  |wet|,                                                                                                  12

|Drag|  |it|  |self|  |up|  |the|  |bank’s|  |san|  |dy|  |slope|.               9

In poetry, as shown above, the syllables of a line form what is called a ‘meter’, which is the rhythm of a line according to how many syllables or ‘metrical feet’ it contains; the amount of syllables/metrical feet per line is written on the right.


A haiku is a Japanese short poem form made up of seventeen syllables: five to the first line, seven to the second, and five to the last.


Dragonflies flurry

cobalt buzzed glass wings skimming

water lily shoal.



|Dra|  |gon|  |flies|  |flu|  |rry|                                                               5

|co|  |balt|  |buzzed|  |glass|  |wings|  |skimm|  |ing|                             7

|wa|  |ter|  |li| |ly|  |shoal|.                                                                            5

As you can see, this haiku has been made from the longer poem before. Breaking down a longer poem or piece of writing into a haiku can be a good way to distil the true essence of it. Notice how I have chosen only nouns (name words), verbs (doing words), adjectives (describing words), and images, to construct this haiku. With so few syllables allowed to you, it is important only to choose the most colourful words, and to leave out any prepositions such as ‘to’ or ‘the’ or conjunctions such as ‘and’ or ‘with’ etc.

Now try making some haikus from the piece you have written previously in this class.  You can use any words you wish, but remember to try and pick out the ones that convey a ‘sense impression’ (see, hear, touch, taste) – you can use any such words you wish, including or excluding the words we brainstormed together at the beginning of the class, but you don’t have to use any of these if you don’t want to.

compiled by Alan Morrison for Creative Future

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