How to Turn 10 Words into an Essay – Basho’s Haiku

In this tutorial, you will learn how to turn 10 words into an essay.

Students often wonder how to find materials to discuss something really short. And what we’ll do is read a very short poem which is a haiku, and it’s only 10 words.

I’ll show you how I go about writing about such a short work. This is just an example of how I do things, and there is lot to learn from it for you.

Here is our poem. It’s very short – only three lines and only ten words total. It is by Basho, a legendary Japanese poet, translated by Robert Hass.

Caterpillar by Basho

A caterpillar,
This deep in fall,
Still not a butterfly.

Very interesting, right? Only ten words.

How do we write an essay on a poem that is only ten words long?

To write an essay about this poem, I need to break it into elements.

How do we do it?

The most natural way to do it with this poem is to simply divide it into these three lines because they are already divided that way.

Line 1: “A caterpillar”. A caterpillar is the subject of this poem.

Line 2: “This deep in fall”. This seems to have something to do with time.

Line 3: “Still not a butterfly. We’re already in the fall, but the caterpillar is still not a butterfly.

Dividing further

Next, we’ll take the caterpillar, the subject, in Line 1, and we’ll try to divide it somehow into parts. As you may know, I’m all about division. If we want to write about something, we have to divide it into parts.

A basic Google search about caterpillars has revealed that there are several stages for a caterpillar to become a butterfly.

The first stage is the caterpillar itself, the larva. Well, actually, the first stage in an egg, but since Basho, meaning the poet, begins to talk about the caterpillar, we’re skipping the egg stage and going straight to the stage of the larva, which is the caterpillar.

The next stage is a chrysalis. It is the middle metamorphosis stage. It’s the stage in which the caterpillar is the most vulnerable because it is kind of hanging off a tree or something and can be easily picked up by a bird or any prey animal, or even by another insect.

And finally, out of the chrysalis comes out a butterfly.

So, just by doing a search on what a caterpillar is and how it turns into a butterfly, I discovered something new. I discovered that there is something that is not present in the poem, which is the chrysalis. I find that very interesting.

Next, we’ll go to Line 2, about “this deep fall”. Apparently, butterflies emerge early in the fall, at least according to the poet.

And finally – Line 3. The poet seems to be critical of something. He’s unhappy with something.

What is he critical of? What is he unhappy about??

Well, something should be but is not. Something is A, but it should be B. And he is unhappy with that.

This is a criticism of the caterpillar. It should now be a butterfly, but it is not.

And this is the way I would be kind of brainstorming and thinking about it because I want to write an essay on the topic.

The most useful part for us has been the part about the caterpillar.


Because we noticed something. We noticed that the poet pretty much skipped the middle stage of the larva’s metamorphosis into the butterfly, which is the chrysalis. He just skipped it, which is very interesting.

So now we’re going structure our essay and see how it will work.

Structuring the Essay

In section one, we could talk about the poet being seemingly discontent. We would just discuss the obvious. A should be B, but it is not.

Next, in section two, we’re going to discuss the metamorphosis of going from a caterpillar into a butterfly. And we’re going to say that it’s a complex process. We’re going to discuss the process, emphasizing the middle phase, the chrysalis.

We’re really going to emphasize that because it gives us a lot of room to talk about it. It’s very interesting because, again, the chrysalis is this very vulnerable stage of transition from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

And finally, we’re kind of going to conclude that the poet is right.

It’s true, yes, the caterpillar should by now be a butterfly, at least according to him. And he has the right (maybe) to be discontent. But he is overlooking something. Because the poet overlooks the middle stage, his view may be limited.

And now we’re going to state the thesis – that Basho’s view seems incomplete.

It’s only our opinion, but it’s a well-informed opinion. Because it came out of us thinking about it in the way I just described. And if we would write a thesis statement, it would sound something like this:

“Basho’s poem is critical of belated maturity…

That’s right, he doesn’t like it that the caterpillar is not a butterfly yet. So it’s a stab at somebody who is immature. That’s pretty much what he wants to say.

…However, his view of the maturation process may be limited.”

We’re not saying it is limited because we don’t necessarily want to criticize the poet. He’s a great poet, and we don’t want to be that critical because, after all, he has the right to be discontent.

But we are going to say that his view may be limited because the poet omits a critical maturation stage, the chrysalis. And – who knows – maybe he doesn’t want to talk about the chrysalis because this is a stage where adults should guide their children or their adolescents and help them become more mature.

This might be a part of our argument: “Hey you know what, in order for the caterpillar to become a butterfly, it needs to undergo the chrysalis stage. And were you present during that stage? Did you help bring it about?”

So, does the poet really have the right to be so critical if he never provided any kind of an explanation about the chrysalis and what is required of the outside environment to make sure a caterpillar can become a butterfly?

This may be a bit far fetched; this may be a little too much. However, I just wanted to show you that you can definitely turn ten words, just a little short poem, into an essay. And you can actually go on forever, depending on how many ideas you can bring in and develop.

What are your takeaways from this all?

  • First, in order to write about anything, break it down into parts, and break down parts into further parts.
  • Next, look things up. Explore unfamiliar concepts. They may hold the key to your argument, the way we just did. The caterpillar turning into a butterfly actually has another transitional phase which is never mentioned in the poem. And that became kind of the cornerstone, the main idea in the essay about this poem.
  • Get the facts and then build the preliminary structure. We got all the facts. We pretty much brainstormed everything we could, and then we started to build the structure of the essay.

I hope this is helpful, and I’ll see you in a future post.

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Tutor Phil

Tutor Phil is an e-learning professional who helps adult learners finish their degrees by teaching them academic writing skills.

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