Brilliant Thoughts by Poets on the “Intelligence of the Heart”

I gathered haikuists’ thoughts for this blog,, asking respondents to comment on one of Robert Spiess’s speculations from his book, “A Year’s Speculations on Haiku,” Modern Haiku, 1995:

“Haiku are written best and appreciated best through the intelligence of the heart.” (June third).


My question: How do you interpret “the intelligence of the heart”?


I received thirty-two responses that I’ve published for this survey. (I also received four responses from poets who didn’t address themselves to the question.)


I’ve edited many of the responses published for word economy. Strangely enough, as haiku poets, we avoid wordiness, but perhaps not so much when writing prose.


Some poets chose to answer the question with an example or a haiku, rather than write a statement, and these were acceptable, of course.




Let me acknowledge at the outset that human beings in the West have, over millennia, expanded the body of knowledge in the arts and sciences in ways that are undeniably stunning and awe-inspiring.  However, knowledge is not synonymous with intelligence, which manifests through a variety of means, including the heart.


Intelligence of the heart, rooted in sensitivity, is a spontaneous felt-sense of care and compassion for those in need, including oneself.  Both humans and non-humans possess this capacity in varying degrees. I remember many years ago, a five-year-old girl walking with her mother on a busy street in Manhattan. As they passed a butcher shop with slaughtered chickens and other animal carcasses hanging in the store window, the young girl––visibly distressed––asked her mother if those chickens were like the ones they ate for dinner.  Her mother—an honest parent—confessed they were. On the spot, this young girl, drawing on her innate intelligence of the heart at the tender age of five, vowed never to eat dead chickens again.


Likewise, I read a news article that recounted how a rescue dog led firefighters into a house aflame and up the stairs to the second floor where a toddler was lying in her crib.  She was saved by the family dog’s natural intelligence of the heart.  


Who knows whether we humans and non-humans would still be on the planet were it not for the combination of ingenuity and intelligence of the heart.  In any case, suffice it to say, I am passionately committed to living with heart—that is, with loving kindness, care, and compassion—which draws me back to what Buddhists call the One, and the poet Rilke refers to as the Whole. In the Whole lies the preservation of the world, to borrow from Henry Thoreau, the Transcendentalist author of “Walden.”


Robert Epstein (USA)



I’m reading “Where Rain Would Stay: The Haiku Poetry of Peggy Willis Lyles,” a collection edited by John Barlow and Ferris Gilli. 


I think Peggy said it best in a conversation I had with her many years ago: “Haiku is the shortest distance between two hearts.” To some, that may sound a bit too cute or Hallmarky. But I think it rings true. A successful haiku has a lightning effect – that instant connection. It functions on multiple levels, but key among them is at the heart level. One might even argue at the gut level, meaning there needs to be a visceral, sensory response upon reading it.  It’s not all mental gymnastics. If a poem doesn’t make the reader feel something, what good is it?


“The intelligence of the heart,” in the writing of haiku is an unconscious knowing. It is a realm akin to the state between waking and sleeping – when truth is closest to the surface. For me, it’s the time of early morning when I write most often. The intelligence of the heart is knowing when and how to open oneself to life’s myriad experiences. And having the time and space to write down the words, carry them in your head until their truth sorts itself out and becomes clear. A haiku, after all, is a homespun thing. The best ones impart some kind of emotional intelligence to both writer and reader.

Peter Newton (USA)



“The haikuist’s soul is found in the heart.”

I understand from Howard Gardner’s seminal research that we each possess multiple intelligences. Some of us have linguistic intelligence to help us write poetry, others mathematical intelligence to focus on or away from the 5-7-5 form, and a few have musical intelligence to help us write rhythmically. I surmise that “the intelligence of the heart” refers to a way of perceiving and experiencing the world that is not solely based on rational or logical thinking, but also involves emotions, intuition, and empathy. 

Intelligence of the heart suggests that haiku, which often express nature and human experiences in a succinct and evocative way, are best understood and appreciated when approached with an open and receptive heart, rather than just with the intellect. 

Charlotte chose a phrase that seems to imply that the heart contains our soul and has an intelligence that can enhance our understanding and appreciation of art and life in general.

David McMurray (Japan)



My computer dictionary defines “intelligence” as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Bob Spiess’s speculation suggests that human intelligence resides not only in the brain, as we might expect, but also in the heart (and possibly other organs as well). I take Bob’s suggestion to mean that haiku originating primarily in the brain may rely on egoism, cleverness, and immediate impact, whereas haiku generated through “intelligence of the heart” are superior inasmuch as they embody humanity, empathy, and reflection. 



Charles Trumbull (USA)



I interpret the word “heart” as a stand-in for emotion, and “intelligence” would infer mediation. As such, a haiku written from the basis of an emotional response to something experienced through the senses has the possibility, when read, of producing a similar emotional response in the reader.

I tend to agree that if a haiku only produces an intellectual response, it would likely leave the reader less attached to it—unless the intellectual response is to something brilliantly clever. On the whole, though, something that induces an emotional response in a reader would generally be more appealing.



Maxianne Berger (Canada)



Bob accurately expresses two important things in his statement: 1) The heart knows things and does so in a different way than the mind knows things. 2) This “intelligence of the heart” allows writers and readers to understand important truths through haiku. While the mind’s intelligence can be very important for the craft of writing haiku, it is important to pair it with the heart’s intelligence. Does that make the heart’s intelligence the best way to write and appreciate haiku? I’m not comfortable with the opposition implied here. The heart’s intelligence is a wonderful way to write and appreciate. That intelligence paired with the mind’s intelligence is also wonderful.



Ce Rosenow (USA)




The best haiku just “happen” in their full expression (or nearly so), and are not written in the usual sense. Such haiku are like the insights that appear in dreams. The intelligence of the heart bears the epiphany, the surprise, the gift when separate images collide in a flash of emotion. The intelligence of the heart pays fierce attention, all the while we do not; it is the source and storehouse of intuition, inspiration, memory, imagination.



after she leaves

the weight

of hanging apples        


Frogpond, 34.3, Fall 2011



Marsh Muirhead (USA)




The heart has been romanticized by humans throughout the ages. A rather lumpish organ linked to our strongest emotions, including love. The brain is the seat of intelligence and rational thought. So what does Spiess mean when he uses the phrase the “intelligence of the heart”? Maybe he is speaking of linking our analytical mind and our emotional mind. While the amygdala is the processing center for human emotion, in this instance, it and the sentimentalized heart are one and the same.

Rational thought and overthinking—the human need to understand and make sense of everything—can, at times, be the bane of an artist.  Making the natural world an object of study apart from ourselves, instead of simply observing and immersing ourselves in our natural surroundings, can rob us of joy. At least, I have found this true.

Scientific study is, of course, necessary to better understand our world and our place in it, but an overly analytical mind can be detrimental to the artistic process and the enjoyment of art. Russian-French Artist Marc Chagall said, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” 

There is a fine balance between approaching art with both our mind and our heart. Sometimes it is best to let the heart take over. Approaching haiku with our emotions with childlike wonder, helps us to experience the world anew. No easy task, to be sure, but I think this is what Spiess meant, and it is what I strive for.

Terri French (USA)



Perhaps “intelligence of the heart” is the closest we come (in the West) to the Japanese concept of “kokoro,” a word that connects the mind, body and spirit. It is understanding the interconnectedness of everything.


Terry Ann Carter (Canada)




When I first met my husband, he asked me what was more important, the mind or the heart. I told him I thought it was both, combined in a union of opposites. I suppose this is what the Japanese call “kokoro.” This sense of mind/heart union has haunted me and inspired me throughout my haiku journey. I know I haven’t reached the perfection of this quest, but I strive; I will always strive. 


Marjorie Buettner (USA)




An expressive Eastern idea. Today, in our dog-eat-dog society, one may assume our hearts and minds are separate, that the two represent opposite binaries. The concept of intelligence of the heart makes me think of a person’s emotional quotient, measuring intellect in terms of ability to process feelings and demonstrate empathy. Haiku and senryu often articulate struggles with, for example, grief, ageism, poverty, (social justice), and animal rights. Haikuists rely on their astute observations and heart-felt thoughts. Certainly, the forms’ foundations in Zen Buddhism, with its tenets of ahimsa and karma involve heart and intellect for composing meaningful poetry.


Jerome Berglund (USA)



It’s a great question.


I interpret “the intelligence of the heart” to mean that while some analytical understanding comes into play with haiku, what is far more important is an emotional identification with the world grasped in the poem. The primal identification involved might also be described as empathy, awe, reverence, and/or gratitude, depending on the haiku.



Barry George (USA)





When I read a haiku and there is that immediate sense of “yes, of course, that is exactly right,” when I intuitively recognize it as true – that is the “intelligence of the heart.”  It is like a lightning bolt of understanding. I may or may not be able to articulate how or why it works. The logic of the heart operates differently from the logic of the mind. It is not necessarily fact-based. It’s intuitive. It makes emotional sense.


But the best haiku do more than appeal to our emotions. There is an intelligence at work. They operate on multiple levels, calling upon different senses, speaking to our experience or our dreams, our memories or our history. They reach through time. 


Think of Basho’s haiku, “summer grasses” —


Summer grasses —

traces of dreams

of ancient warriors

Haruo Shirane (translation)



Or,  Buson’s haiku about his wife’s comb —


piercingly cold

stepping on my dead wife’s comb

in the bedroom

Haruo Shirane (translation)



Or, the unerring truth in Taneda Santōka’s —


the road’s so straight it’s lonely

Hakudō Inoue (translation)



In recent years, scientists have discovered that the heart has a brain of its own, and that the heart can influence our understanding of time and memory. As these and other haiku show, this is something poets have long understood.  


Beverly Acuff Momoi (USA)





What a great question, especially with the popular monoku. Many of these I enjoy, but I think others are off the wall and require the intellect to solve the puzzle. I strongly believe in the intuitive aspect of haiku, not found in the intellect, but the heart. 

Carole MacRury (USA)




the soul 

with one look


Marjorie Bruhmuller (Canada)




The poet listens to the voice of the heart. There is the intelligence quotient of the heart when we write haiku that involves our senses. The mind processes an experience through the senses, and haiku poets use their heart in interpreting the experience. For example, when I see passing clouds, I sometimes equate the clouds with a sad experience I’ve had. I relive the experience and write about it in the present tense. There is the interplay of heart and mind, and therefore, “the intelligence of the heart.” 


Lakshmi Iyer (India)




The heart is the hearth of feelings, a mood metronome.  This is its “intelligence,” signaling our reaction to stimuli such as the deeper emotions evoked by good haiku.


Bryan D. Cook (Canada)




A peaceful, joyous understanding of the simplicity of truth as reflected in nature. 

Brendan Hewitt (Canada)




“Intelligence of the heart” might mean that the poem appeals to our emotions, senses, and intellect all at once. 


Dave Russo (USA)



The Japanese word “kokoro” combines mind, body, and spirit. It brings together intellectual responses, emotional reactions, and spiritual states. 


Intelligence, as it is usually defined, refers to a mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn from experience, to adapt to new situations, to understand and handle abstract concepts, and to use knowledge to navigate the environment. To this, the notion of kokoro adds the awareness, understanding, and intuition of the body as a whole, where feelings are not separated from mind.


The heart is body-mind, the human animal, our place in nature, not separate from it, but part of it.  I believe Robert Spiess had these ideas in mind when he wrote his speculation.



Robert Witmer (Japan)




“The intelligence of the heart” is passion tempered by reason and experience. 

John J. Dunphy (USA)




Perhaps Robert was referring to the relationship between cognitive and emotional intelligence. I think writing and reading short-form poetry fosters a deep mind-body connection. Much like the single brushstroke of an incomplete ensō, the writer leaves an opening for the reader to enter. Short poems, in particular, must not only be intelligently crafted, but they must also strike an emotional chord in the reader’s heart.


Debbie Strange (Canada)





Like an arrow, a poem flies and hits the target. Right into the middle, straight into my heart. Pieces of an unsolvable puzzle fall into place. A sudden insight happens, revealing a slice of universal truth. Glimpses of enlightenment. This is it: the intelligence of the heart.


Deborah Karl-Brandt (Germany)



The power derived from typically combining two images in a haiku, relies on the writer and the reader to first use the intelligence of the mind to connect the two, and then the intelligence of the heart to extract from this connection a deeper meaning. This illumination of something deeper is where, I feel, the best haiku draw their strength. 


Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff (USA)




a rose with

a few fallen petals 

in a wine bottle vase


Michael Ketchek (USA)



Yes, the heart has a brain too! It has an understated intelligence and a memory of its own. It can be activated through self-initiated practice. Nurturing emotions such as appreciation, awareness, caring, gratitude, and compassion contribute to fulfilling the complex heart-brain connection. By blending mind and emotions, more and more, we can sense the heart is guiding us.


I love my husband’s philosophy on this: he says if he ever has a conflict between his head and heart, he always follows what his heart tells him to do.

Marilyn Appl Walker (USA)



My response is this quote:


“When the heart speaks, take good notes.”


I think its source is unclear, so “Anonymous” might be best.



(Editor’s note: In 2000, Author Susan Borkin wrote the book, “When Your Heart Speaks, Take Good Notes: The Healing Power of Writing.”)


Jeannie Martin (USA)




Initially, a haiku may not tug at our emotions until it reveals itself layer upon layer. This may take many readings of it. We can discern the truth/reality in haiku after our mind grasps what our emotional self, that is, our heart, is guiding us to.


Mike Montreuil (Canada)





I think “the intelligence of the heart,” when considering haiku, means that a haiku can pluck one’s heartstrings and evoke feelings within the reader and/or listener. It is a pertinent concept that lends more depth to the haiku experience from writer or poet, to reader or listener.



Lenard D. Moore (USA)



I practice meditation. I read publications on the effects of meditation which allow us to re-establish our roots (like a tree with its roots in the earth). I understand that it is important to establish the vertical axis brain-heart, to have access to my intuition, and to be in a state of well-being.


In meditation, the network neurons of the heart provide a direct line of communication to the brain. 


Heart intelligence is the flow of higher awareness and intuition I may experience when my emotions and mind are brought into synchronistic alignment. The heart receives intuitive information before the brain. 


Tuy-Nga Brignol (France)



Deep meditation on our oneness with nature and the universe. 


Paul Beech (Wales)


The awe I feel on a clear September night, sky studded with a billion stars and a full harvest moon.

Maureen Weldon (Wales)



Intelligence of the heart involves aspects such as empathy, that is, becoming one with other life forms. In general, it involves a communion with nature, and seeing beauty and detail in ordinary things. Haiku poets have an acute awareness of their surroundings through all their senses, and an acuity for seasonal changes. 



Mary L. Leopkey (Canada)




Copyright 2023 by Charlotte Digregorio.




























About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 46 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. In 2018, I was honored by the Governor of Illinois for my thirty-eight years of accomplishments in the literary arts, and my work to promote and advance the field by educating adults and students alike. I am the author of seven books including: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; Your Original Personal Ad; and my latest, Ripples of Air: Poems of Healing. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 43 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended, and praised by hundreds of critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. I am also the author of a poetry collection: "Shadows of Seasons: Selected Haiku and Senryu by Charlotte Digregorio." Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I regularly sign books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores, and do poetry readings at art centers, cafes, tea houses, and galleries. I was recently nominated for two Pushcart Prizes in poetry. I have won fifty-nine poetry awards, writing fourteen poetic forms. My poetry has been translated into eight languages. I do illustrated solo poetry exhibits 365 days a year in libraries, galleries, corporate buildings, hospitals, convention centers, and other venues. My individual poems have been displayed at supermarkets, apparel and wine shops, banks, botanic gardens, restaurants, and on public transit. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." I hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on several library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I am self-employed as a public relations/marketing consultant, having served a total of 118 clients in 23 states for the past several decades . In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give lectures and workshops on publishing, journalism, publicity, poetry, and creativity to business and professional groups, and at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I served for five years as Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America, and for two years as its Second Vice President.
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10 Responses to Brilliant Thoughts by Poets on the “Intelligence of the Heart”

  1. Outstanding and inspiring feature, thank you Charlotte and all contributors.

  2. Al W Gallia says:

    Charlotte, what wonderful responses! Thanks to all who contributed!

  3. Philomene Kocher says:

    What a beautiful question & thoughtful responses. This has given me much to contemplate.

  4. Pingback: Brilliant Thoughts by Poets on the “Intelligence of the Heart” – Poet on the Beach…

  5. JB says:

    Amazing responses in here all, each so unique and informative, didactic and valuable. But Terri French definitely set the curve!! xD Always witty Charlotte Digregorio also making me want to read her classic book “Haiku and Senryu: a Simple Guide For All” again! ✨

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