Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


The Haiku of Ernest John Berry (1929-)
New Zealand



Ernest J Berry was born 1929 in Christchurch. After a decade of shepherding in Poverty Bay and the Canterbury high country, he spent several years in business in Auckland before retiring to a wilderness beach in Mexico where he rediscovered his childhood love of [short] poetry. He un-retired in 1993 and settled in Picton where he adopted haiku as a retirement project. He has been deeply involved with the haiku movement world-wide ever since. Two of his many haiku books have been honoured with Merit Book Awards from The Haiku Society of America and he has long lost count of his successes in haiku competions. After founding Picton Poets in 1994, Ernie has taught haiku in workshop, secondary schools, poetry meetings and special-interest groups.

the taste of rain
from a barrel
my infamous ancestor
in diapers
clouded moon
the sound of her slip
hitting the floor
childhood home
someone else's mother
on the mantelpiece
high desert
i'm surrounded
by a fly
she skirts
the word
neighbour's cat
the cicada in its teeth
keeps singing
muddy garden
her puppy
brings it in
a yellow caterpillar
in its tracks
bright moon
light years
between starfish

clouded moon
the sound of her slip
hitting the floor

Spring morning
the ring of temple bells
in my step

armistice day
searching in vain
for old mates

first love
wind mills turning
into dusk

autumn wind
the peace rose
blows away

September wind
a better view
of compost bins

wreckers yard
a ghetto blaster
comes to life

wreckers yard
last year's colours
on the leaves

tidal sand
the coastal pine's
reflected shadow

hospice window
a protruding fist
flicks ash

memorial service
no moment of silence
for my stomach

night nurse
I walk down a corridor
of her perfume

yesterday's headlines
still sinking in

scenic drive
i'm interrupted
by her snores

convalescing ...
the window takes 2 1/4 hours
to cross the carpet

desert heat
the lizard disappears
into a snake

spring rain
the cameleon busy
being green

overnight rain
a reflection by the runway

dawn parade
old soldiers
dropping poppies

wet garden
the puppy
brings it in

donation box
how quietly
the summer rain

the acacia trees

night tide
the floating gill-nets
fill with starlight

redwood forest
after the shower
puddles of light

piercing light
the silence of
a cormorant

first quiet hours
the dew-laden leaf
a little lower

not too big to overlook
the mountain daisy

ocean wind
that sharp smell
of flowing seaweed

summer rain
i stop to listen
to the lake

storm clouds
the cry of a shearwater
circles the sky

water colourist
his row boat
begins to float

cherry blossoms
on fujiyama
who cares

brisk walk
the snail shell
keeps up

women's hospital
shadows in the corridor

between labor pains
distant rain

little brother
his halloween pumpkin
waits for sunset

end of drought
the overfull reservoir's
leaking moon

sultry night
a jay in the bird-bath
empties the moon

harbor view
another cruise ship leaves
all my longings

in the flames
our old love letters
curled up together

my thoughts
dress up

night fishing
in the Pleiades

liberated village
the survivor holds out
his severed hand

war widow
her old dog limps
beside her

our wisteria
flowering well
next door

with bottle of port
a pair of old seadogs
tack round the bar

parked for the night
the sole remaining clydesdale
still smoking

old family home
holding together
the morning glory

at silly mid-off
looking splendid in whites
-1--2---3 seagulls

on her kimono
billowing in the moonlight
a heron in flight

from autumn stillness a wooden shadow talks

under the congoleum
the allies still
fleeing dunkirk

from the homeless under the bridge songs of solomon

retirement home
my long-johns on the line
still jogging

memorial pond
a legless soldier

Mother's parasol
we unfurl the dust
of summers past

forest dawn
fingers of light
smell of pine-oil

blow-up globe
he points out the trouble spots
with his cigarette

wedding day
she unlaces
her changing shape

into the silence
between crashing waves
a curlew

desert heat
the kangaroo rat disappears
into a snake

old garden shed
the insecticide can
full of spiders

nearly sunset
we reel in a salmon
redder than the sky

early to bed
a wild winter night
in the downpipe

snowed in
my frothy cappucino
too hot to drink

nibbling on a leaf
a yellow caterpillar
lets in the sun

silent rain
i stop to listen
to the lake

ground fog
a cow looks up

spring dawn
pine needles dripping
the night away

collective farm
one of the scarecrows
breaks her back

late afternoon
the porch icicle
lit from within

empty garden her camelias in full bloom

my nick name
engraved on the trunk
out of reach

at the post
she used to pee on

winter chill
a vivid sunset
colours the buds

xmas morning
toys on his windowsill
wrapped in sunrise

shaking hands
with her feet
new daughter

twisted to fit

desert moon
crows on the joshua tree
going bronze


forest firemen
lighting up

eventide home
a twisted hand tends
the windowbox

impressive name
for a weed
i look again

dawn service
elderly soldiers
dropping poppies

eulogy lengthening sighs in the cypress

moonlit frost
nothing stirs
the silence

taking off her face
after a long day’s work
avon lady

a little fish emerges
from a cloud

not one good enough
to pluck

wedding night
a satellite

moon viewing
i stumble
on a pumpkin

contractions -
the darkness
between stars

spring rain
the chameleon busy
being green

vanishing point
the lark song
beyond it

wreckers yard
a ghetto blaster
comes to life

autumn sunset
the glow of bluegum
in the stove

early closing
the table daisies
stay open

cold morning
the hair stylist's cat
curls up

mental hospital
a no entry sign
blocks the exit

spring rain
we hurry inside
each other

childhood home
my overgrown
jungle gym

grecian urn
she blows away
the centuries

winter night
firelight draws in
the walls

cold funeral raindrops dancing along mahogany

the softness
of a termite

across the lake
a cicada

crash site
his toy truck

wedding photos
in the 2nd drawer
first wife

memorial park
the length
of the grass

frigate bird
how easily it slips
into dusk

wet sand
an abandoned boat
in the galaxy



words: Ernest J Berry

KEY: H – haiku; syl - syllable

" ~ poetry differs from every other art in having a value for the people of the poet’s race and language

which it can have for no other people." - T S Elliot

H is a brief poem of Japanese origin which evokes the emotions of a keenly felt, often momentary, natural &/or Zen-like experience.

Claims that English h must be in 3 lines of 5/7/5 syls, result from misunderstanding of the moji - or sound unit, of which there are (usually) 17 in one vertical line in Japanese h. (see footnote 1.)

As one English syl may contain several moji, 17 moji in English would obviously constitute far fewer syls.(see footnote 2.)

Japanese topics (dai), and season words (kigo), are not common to all cultures and climes so they are often adapted or abandoned. There are also many linguistic, cultural, historic, & religious etc factors which inhibit the formulation of definitions and guidelines for non-Japanese h.

Punctuation &/or capitals can so overwhelm and distort these tiny poems, that many poets forego either or both.

In the context of many centuries, the recently contrived ‘5/7/5 three-liner’ would hardly constitute ‘tradition’. Yet despite this, (and the fact that no national h society supports them), some authorities, individuals and ill-informed encyclopedists insist on this illogical formula.

Line quantity & disposition are more matter of habit than logic, though by Japanese standards, an English h should be in 1 line divided into a short and a long segment.

Currently, open-ended 3-liners of up to 17 syls top the pops, followed by 1 & 2-liners and a wide variety of inventive configurations, - none of which can claim divine right.


(1) We use a confusing array of words for the Japanese ‘sound bite’ or ‘metrical unit’. They include ji, on, onji, jion, moji, monji, mora (L) et al. Any of these may be correct in context.

(2) English syls are often indistinct or dipthongic eg: fire, child’s, flower, whales, mind, scrunched, are all, single-syl multi-moji words; whereas ‘obedient’ [for eg]., could have either 3 or 4 multi-moji syls; - all of which makes syl counting for metrical purposes nonsensical.