June 6: 3-5: The Technique of Metaphor and the Technique of Simile

(See this post for an explanation of what’s going on here.)


The Technique of Metaphor:

“I can just hear those of you who have had some training in haiku, sucking in your breath in horror. There IS that ironclad rule that one does not use metaphor in haiku. Posh. Basho used it in his most famous ‘crow ku.’

on a bare branch
a crow lands
autumn dusk

“What he was saying in other words (not haiku words) was that an autumn evening comes down on one the way it feels when a crow lands on a bare branch.”

The Technique of Simile:

“Usually in English you know a simile is coming when you spot the words ‘as’ and ‘like.’ Occasionally one will find in a haiku the use of a simile with these words still wrapped around it, but the Japanese have proved to us that this is totally unnecessary. … [T]he unspoken rule is that you can use simile (which the rule-sayers warn against) if you are smart enough to simply drop the ‘as’ and ‘like.’ …[B]y doing this you give the reader some active part that makes him or her feel very smart when they discover the simile for him/herself.

a long journey
some cherry petals
begin to fall”

– Jane Reichhold, Haiku Techniques


I combined these techniques because it’s difficult for me to see how a simile that doesn’t use the words “like” or “as” is different from a metaphor. There obviously is a subtle distinction in Jane’s mind but I am not subtle enough to understand it. I’d love to hear from anyone who is.

tree climbing
boys taller
than last year

hot water running
your hands on
my shoulders

cats paw at the screen door
we sign
the papers


June 7: I edited one of these haiku slightly. Anyone who can tell me how gets a prize. 🙂

4 thoughts on “June 6: 3-5: The Technique of Metaphor and the Technique of Simile

    • Yes…it’s hard to achieve the kind of transparency you’re talking about, but I agree it’s worth trying for. Thanks again for flattering me. 🙂

  1. I’m not unalterably opposed to metaphor in haiku, and I love and respect Jane, but I don’t think the Basho is an example of metaphor: rather, an illustration of what can be done with juxtaposition.

    I’d say that’s true of your examples also. They are all very good, by the way.

    I think Jane’s point about dropping the “like” is illustrated by what you (and Basho) have done. If you think that the autumn evening is like the descent of a crow, drop the “like” and juxtapose the images. The result isn’t metaphor. It’s haiku.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Bill. I know you’ve thought about this a whole lot more than I have. 🙂

      Alternatively I also think it’s possible that all the haiku here (maybe all haiku of the classic type of juxtaposed or connected images) are a form of metaphor. That’s a pretty broad term, really. I’m still not sure what Jane’s point about similes is, I had always thought that a simile was just a metaphor with the comparison made explicit, so if you took out that explicitness it reverted to being a metaphor. I don’t see how the Basho haiku is any less an “inexplicit simile” than her cherry petal example — you could write, perfectly comprehensibly (though I agree much less effectively):

      on a bare branch
      a crow lands
      like autumn dusk

      I don’t know what the original Japanese is, though; maybe that has something to do with the difference Jane is seeing.

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