Write an Ode to a Toad

The old pond is still
a frog leaps right into it
splashing the water

--Matsuo Basho
Translated by Earl Miner & Hiroko Odagiri
(From the Bureau of Public Secrets)

This is the Year of the Frog. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has declared 2008 as the Year of the Frog. This zoo group wants to raise awareness of these oft-endangered creatures. Did you know that Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote about frogs more than 300 years ago? Basho was famous for his haikus, a kind of poetry that’s popular in Japan. Haikus are often about nature. They don’t have to rhyme, but they do follow a pattern based on syllables—the sounds you put together to make words. For example, the word “water” is made up of two sounds: “wa” and “ter.” Get it? Two sounds, two syllables.

Haikus have just three lines. The first line has five syllables, the middle line has seven syllables, and the bottom line has five again. It’s like a syllable sandwich! Let’s see how Matsuo’s haiku works. Cup your chin in your hand, read the haiku aloud and count each time your chin moves to keep track of the syllables:


Do you see a pattern of 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the middle, and 5 syllables in the bottom? Good. Now you’re ready to write your own haiku! Matsuo described how a frog jumps into a pond. What do you like about frogs and toads? Think croaking, leaping and cool colors and patterns.

Write your own “toad”-tally fabulous haiku and send it to no later than Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. You can submit as many haikus as you wish. (Please include your name, address, phone number and age.)  We will publish our favorite poem in the November Wild Things and send the winner a plush-toy frog pal.