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Found haiku

March 5, 2011

Via a post yesterday at The View from Helicon, I have been investigating another one of those wonderful contrivances that you find on the Internet – the Haiku Finder. It’s a program that searches pasted-in text for sentences (or sequences of sentences) that happen to have seventeen syllables, and presents them as haiku. The program encourages you to use non-poetic texts: “paste in the text of a book from the Gutenberg project, a political speech or deposition,” it suggests, “or some dry legal document to find the soul within.” Helikonios’ post, following the first suggestion, features a number of excellent haiku sifted from the works of Charles Darwin, and I encourage you to go and read them.

Finding poetry in odd places is a thing I love, and I have been all over the Haiku Finder this evening. The first thing I tried was as it happens not one of the program’s suggestions; instead, I fed it each of my NaNoWriMo novels in turn, to see what it spat out and whether the resulting haiku reflected the flavour of the stories. Here are the pick of the bunch, in reverse chronological order.

(Astute readers will notice no entry for 2007. This was the year I crashed and burned at 12,000 words, which produced nothing. The others are all 50,000+, with 2009’s topping 80,000 – it seems that you need a seriously large text input to reliably find haiku.)

Nightfall in Langstrand, 2010

“Before that? I can
still remember what it looked
like in the sun, Ash.”

Was there no limit
to the water in heaven?
Would the whole world drown?

The Clockwork Courtesan, 2009

“Definitely,” Newt
said, and took refuge behind
the glass of water.

He left the room, locked
the door and mounted the back
stairs again, thinking.

Heaven and Oblivion / A Kiss for Lucifer, 2008

It was beautiful
work, the name of the carver
lost to the ages.

The sanctuary
stretched before them, cold and dark,
sighing and dusty.

“and in saying it,
the other half, because words
can be healed with words.”

Tier City, 2006

She would not look him
in the eye as she murmured
“How long has it been?

For a moment there
was dim light, streaming in from
outside, then nothing.


I’m gratified that the haiku seem mostly to reflect the good parts, or at least the not-so-crap-as-other-parts parts, though this has to be accidental.

My favourite is hands down the third one from A Kiss for Lucifer. That novel was utterly terrible most of the way through, but did produce a number of moments that I treasure – the zombie kitten, Seamus the Rubbish Communist, and it gave me an excuse to write pastiche Renaissance tragedy, which is hilarious fun – to the list of which has now been added this haiku. I don’t remember writing that bit of dialogue at all, but I’m glad I did.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    March 8, 2011 1:27 pm

    Heh. These are addictive. I particularly like the two from Nightfall in Langstrand and the one where refuge is taken behind a glass of water. Here are some from my creative-work folder (still antediluviantically titled F:/My Documents/”Summertime and short stories”)…

    From Forefathers (the longest, “hybrid” draft):

    She looked at the door
    and then back at her girlfriend.
    Hannah answered it.

    “But if you defy
    this order now you will be
    exiled for ever.”

    “If anybody
    sees you with these, you will say
    you stole them?” she said.

    From Anti-Heroes (one of yours and one of mine in this one):

    “But some are saying
    this plane crash might have been caused
    by spectrum people.”

    He looked over towards
    Middle Farm, where Ronnie would
    be feeding his cows.

    From Zombie Student Apocalypse Part I: Freshers

    “You nailed him.” He tries
    to pat her on the shoulder
    in a friendly way.

    The camera angle
    changes to behind a nest
    with a machine gun.

    From Summertime:

    “But no matter how
    fast Ezekiel went, he could
    not catch the old man.”

    “I was so down low
    at having to go back west
    to the farm again.”

    “Well, I threw my clothes
    on just as fast as I could
    and checked out of there.”

    “Well, if he wants his
    five minutes of fun, let him
    have it! Five minutes!”

    “You too.” He went off
    to find the others and say
    goodbye to them too.

  2. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    March 8, 2011 1:46 pm

    Holy hell! Bleak House has over 50! Here are some of the best ones:

    Sir Leicester dozes,
    starts up suddenly, and cries,
    “Eh? What do you say?”

    There! I have wiped them
    away now and can go on
    again properly.

    He still smoked his pipe
    with an air of defiance,
    but he was silent.

    Would you suppose him
    to have a head and a heart
    full of romance yet?

    As the light goes in,
    the great eyes in the shutters,
    darkening, seem to close.

    Everything the dear
    child wore was either too large
    for him or too small.

    He was always gruff
    with him, but he has been kind
    to the children since.

    “If you please, miss,” said
    the little girl in a soft
    voice, “I am Charley.”

    Not many a tree
    that I couldn’t climb yet if
    I was put to it.

    Ada called to me
    to let her in, but I said,
    “Not now, my dearest.”

    She had followed me
    down here to speak to me but
    once in all her life.

    And he is making
    hay of the grass which is flesh,
    for his three daughters.

    I have no purpose
    to serve now but burial
    in oblivion.

    You can do nothing
    worse to me than you have done.
    Do what remains now.

    They pluck his feathers
    now and then and clip his wings,
    but he sings, he sings!

    Rosa is with her
    and has been writing for her
    and reading to her.

    And yet I would be
    glad to do it if I might
    or if I knew how.

    Mr. Bucket makes
    three distinctly different bows
    to these three people.

    For I felt as if
    I could not bear the painful
    delight of his praise.

    You will forgive me
    all this, my Ada, before
    I begin the world?

  3. March 9, 2011 2:27 pm

    Oh wow, some of those Bleak House ones are excellent. ALSO another thing I have noticed: quite a lot of these five-syllable final lines are also Adonic clausulae (dactyl-spondee). “Do what remains now” definitely is, and so is “Full of romance yet” and arguably “But he was silent” and “Outside, then nothing” (from the post). I know that haiku aren’t supposed to be metrical, but that’s still cool.

    Rhiannon suggested I try it on the Bible. The KJV has some corkers – some of the best:

    And unto thee shall
    be his desire, and thou
    shalt rule over him.

    can I hear any
    more the voice of singing men
    and singing women?

    now advise, and see
    what answer I shall return
    to him that sent me.

    But the other said,
    Let it be neither mine nor
    thine, but divide it.

    how is Babylon
    become a desolation
    among the nations!

    how is Babylon
    become an astonishment
    among the nations!

    Now if any man
    have not the Spirit of Christ,
    he is none of his.

    The old commandment
    is the word which ye have heard
    from the beginning.

    Then I tried giving it Malory, which produced absolutely piles, but sadly most of them are pretty pedestrian. Here are a couple of the good ones:

    But for this we come
    to require you of knighthood
    to tell us your name.

    And when this knight came
    nigh them he saluted them,
    and they him again.

    Then Sir Launcelot
    saw her visage, but he wept
    not greatly, but sighed.

    Some of the oddest ones, though, came from giving it Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Lies (which is, to be fair, full of vaguely mystical pseudopoetic bits anyway). Consider:

    This chapter should be
    studied in the light of what
    is said in “Aha!

    There is no meaning
    in the word, stillness, so long
    as motion exists.

    The penultimate
    paragraph is introduced
    by way of repose.

    And melancholy
    as existence is, the price
    is well worth paying.

    For when Naught becomes
    Absolute Naught, it becomes
    again the Many.

  4. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    March 10, 2011 10:08 am

    The KJV ones are great, particularly the Babylon duology. And the Crowley ones are engagingly nonsensical.

    I wonder where the code for the haiku finder got its syllable-number detector? If that piece of code were importable, it would presumably be quite simple to make a Sapphic ode finder? A simple one, of course: just finding text that went 11-11-11-5, regardless of meter.

  5. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    March 10, 2011 10:30 am

    Haiku-analysis of the very long message thread between you and me from Easter 2008 turned up this one:

    How dreadfully 1940s;
    I love it. I’ll be seeing
    you in two days time.

  6. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    March 10, 2011 1:13 pm

    Hey, that’s odd; the machine seems to have taken “1940s” as a single syllable. I still like it though.

  7. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    March 13, 2011 11:44 am

    Putting a screenplay in yields a whole different kind of language:

    “Uh, okay. Hi. Hey.
    You forget something? No. Hike!
    Hike! All right. Nice throw.”

    “Oh, my God. Oh. Oh.
    Oh. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
    I can’t believe this.”

    “No.” “Where do you live?”
    “In the depot.” “My name is
    Cleo.” “My name’s Fin.”

    “Are you okay? Uh,
    I’m gonna… I’m gonna go.
    I’ll see you later.”

    “I was young… and, uh…
    really angry.” “About what?”
    “Um… Being a dwarf.”

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