From A Poet’s Glossary
The following definition of the term haibun is reprinted from A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch.
Haibun is a work that combines haiku and prose. Matsuo Bashō’s book The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling (1690) is generally considered the first outstanding example of haibun literature. It was closely modeled on Kamo no Chōmei’s extended prose essay, Ten-Foot Square Hut (1212), which is, as Haruo Shirane puts it, “an extended prose poem in a highly elliptical, hybrid style of vernacular, classical Japanese and classical Chinese, with Chinese-style parallel words and parallel phrases.” Bashō’s subsequent travel journal, or nikki, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1694), established the haibun as a major form that connects individual haiku with a surrounding prose narrative. The prose of the travel diaries—precise, elliptical—is written in the same spirit as the poems, which emerge from the prose. The prose has the aesthetic of haikai [a form of Japanese poetry that contains alternating stanzas from multiple poets, often employing a relaxed and colloquial style]. The link between each prose passage and each subsequent poem is implicit. Bashō’s disciple Morikawa Kyoriku, who edited the first important anthology of haibun, Prose Collection of Japan (1706), noted:
Works such as The Tale of Genji and The Tale of Sagoromo […] should be called handbooks for composing classical poetry. Both these texts follow the principles of classical poetry and classical linked verse. There is not a single word that offers a model for haikai prose. Bashō, my late teacher, was the first to create such a model and breathe elegance and life into it.
Some of the Japanese poets best known for haibun are Yosa Buson (1716–1783), the samurai Yokoi Yayū (1702–1783), and Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827), whose autobiographical book, The Year of My Life (1819), was his culminating work. The climax responds to the death of his daughter:
This world of dew
is a world of dew,
and yet, and yet…
The haibun has sometimes provided a model for the crossing of genres in contemporary poetry, from poetic diaries by Gary Snyder and lyrical prose works by Jack Kerouac, who saw much of his work as prose written by a haiku poet, to the six haibun in John Ashbery’s A Wave (1984), the haibun sensibility in the Canadian poet Fred Wah’s 1985 book Waiting for Saskatchewan (he characterizes the haibun as “short prose written from a haiku sensibility and, in this case, concluded by an informal haiku line”), and the mixture of poetic plays and photo-documentary poems in Mark Nowak’s Shut Up Shut Down (2004). Sam Hamill’s Bashō’s Ghost (1989) is structured as a series of haibun around his visit to Japan.
See also haiku.