The Blog

Haiku: The Ancient Form of Twitter

I found myself comparing historic compressed expression to our social networking world.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Last month I had the opportunity to facilitate an all day legacy writing workshop in East Lansing, Michigan. There gathered 57 women and three brave men to reflect on their lives and values, to communicate and preserve them for future generations.

We began the day writing haikus to focus our personal intention and purpose for the day. Haikus, short poems developed by the Japanese many centuries ago, may at first glance feel strangely different from our more diffuse, stream-of-consciousness style of writing.

The structure of haiku is a poetic form of three lines, five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second and concluding with five syllables in the third line. It was perfected by the poet Bosho around the same time that Benjamin Franklin was publishing Poor Richard's Almanac, as a vehicle for his "wise sayings." Possibly the best known Japanese haiku is Bosho's "old pond."

古池や 蛙飛込む 水の音

fu-ru-i-ke ya (5)
ka-wa-zu to-bi-ko-mu (7)
mi-zu no o-to (5)

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water's sound

Introducing the writing exercise, I found myself comparing historic compressed expression to our social networking world. Jack Dorsey created Twitter in San Francisco in 2006. What's Twitter? It's a microblogging vehicle allowing communication in a structure with an outer boundary of 140 letters. The "tweet" has roots in language's history of concise and memorable communication.

The participants in the legacy writing workshop wrote their haikus, the ancient form of tweeting, in less than five minutes. They were rich, varied and deep. Here are some samples:

Learn to share my thoughts,
Preserving them for others
Strengthens my life, too.

Freeing my soul
Sharing long gathered wisdom
Baring my hidden heart

Heartsongs play softly
My drummer may not be yours
Grandson I give you my song

Embracing my life
Celebrating my journey
Passing on blessing.

If you think that tweets, aphorisms or haikus are beyond your capabilities, you may be surprised to know there are more than 100 million users of Twitter worldwide! Of course all the tweeters are not as talented as Ben Franklin, Bosho or the East Lansing legacy writers, but their purpose -- to express observations, feelings, wisdom and blessings concisely and in a memorable style -- is the same.

I'm planning to write daily haikus this fall to record a life review/legacy journey I'm making: returning after 44 years to Tunisia where I served in the Peace Corps. The purpose of the trip is to reclaim memories and to reflect about a precious two-year adventure, one of the transformational periods of my life, in which I gave much, received more, and learned about life beyond my Midwestern perceptions -- and also birthed my first child.

Some suggestions for Action

This month's legacy writing is a challenge to experiment with and explore condensed writing. In a month full of celebrations and holidays (Fathers Day and family life cycle celebrations: commencements, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries) I invite you to send your own inspirational wise sayings and/or inter-generational blessings in ancient or modern form.

1. Begin by reflecting about the message you wish to send.
2. Spend no more than five minutes drafting a haiku, tweet or 'wise saying.'
3. Set it aside for at least 24 hours.
4. Return to your message to play with rearranging the words, edit and make sure that the message you wish to convey is expressed. (I'm giving my great-niece a haiku with a copy of The Synonym Finder as a high school graduation gift -- appropriate for a family of wordsmiths and an incoming university freshman.)
5. Find or make your own beautiful card to send or accompany a gift suitable to the occasion.

May your family cherish your
lovingly chosen words as part of
your legacy to them,

~ Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at or email:

Rachael Freed has published several works including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations and Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient."

She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families." Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator, and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and

Follow Rachael on twitter @

Before You Go

Popular in the Community