While “quintain” is the general term applied to poetic forms using a 5-line pattern, there are specific forms within that category that are defined by specific rules and guidelines.
The term “CINQUAIN” (pronounced SING-cane, the plural is “cinquains”) as applied by modern poets most correctly refers to a form invented by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey ( William Soutar,the Scots poet,was also a prolific writer thereof). The first examples of hers were published in 1915 in The Complete Poems, roughly a year after her death. Her cinquain form was inspired by Japanese haiku and Tanka (a form of Waka).
Crapsey’s cinquains utilized an increasing syllable count in the first four lines, namely two in the first, four in the second, six in the third, and eight in the fourth, before returning to two syllables on the last line. In addition, though little emphasized by critics, each line in the majority of Crapsey cinquains has a fixed number of stressed syllables, as well, following the pattern one, two, three, four, one. The most common metrical foot in her twenty-eight published examples is the iamb, though this is not exclusive. Also, in contrast to the Eastern forms upon which she based them, Crapsey always titled her cinquains, effectively utilizing the title as a sixth line.
The Crapsey cinquain has subsequently seen a number of variations by modern poets, including:
- Reverse cinquain, a form with one 5-line stanza in a syllabic pattern of two, eight, six, four, two.
- Mirror cinquain, a form with two 5-line stanzas consisting of a cinquain followed by a reverse cinquain.
- Butterfly cinquain, a nine-line syllabic form with the pattern two, four, six, eight, two, eight, six, four, two.
- Crown cinquain, a sequence of five cinquain stanzas functioning to construct one larger poem.
- Garland cinquain, a series of six cinquains in which the last is formed of lines from the preceding five, typically line one from stanza one, line two from stanza two, and so on.
The didactic cinquain is also closely related to the Crapsey cinquain. It is an informal cinquain widely taught in elementary schools and has been featured in, and popularized by, children’s media resources, including Junie B. Jones and PBS Kids. This form is also embraced by young adults and older poets for its expressive simplicity. The proscriptions of this type of cinquain refer to word count, not syllables and stresses. Ordinarily, the first line is a one-word title, the subject of the poem; the second line is a pair of adjectives describing that title; the third line is a three word phrase that gives more information about the subject; the fourth line consists of four words describing feelings related to that subject; and the fifth line is single word synonym or other reference for the subject from line one.
According to the same Japanese influence as the Crapsey cinquain, a number of more contemporary poets have devised other five line forms striving after the same tone and appeal.
- Tetractys is five-line poem of 20 syllables with a title, arranged in the following order: 1,2,3,4,10.with each line standing as a phrase on its own.It can be inverted,doubled etc and was created by the late English poet Ray Stebbings.
- Cinqku is a five line blending of the Cinquain and Tanka forms, created by American poet Denis Garrison. It consists of five lines with a total of 17 syllables, no title, and a surprise or turn occurring in either line 4 or line 5.
- Lanterne is a five line quintain verse shaped like a Japanese lantern with a syllabic pattern of one, two, three, four, one. Each line is usually able to stand on its own as a line, and the lanterne will not have a title.
A cinquain is a five line poem.
(subject or noun)
(adjectives) that describe line 1
(action verbs) that relate to line 1
(feelings or a complete sentence) that relates to line 1
(synonym of line 1 or a word that sums it up)
SAMPLES OF CONTEMPORARY CINQUAINS by:
Thomas D. Greer
Perhaps as early as in 1909, the shy and sensitive Adelaide Crapsy had read A Hundred Verses from Old Japan, William N. Porter’s translations of the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and From the Eastern Sea by Yone Nogushis. In Adelaide’s notebook she lists eleven tanka and eight haiku she had translated from Antholgie de la littérature japonaise des origines au XX siécle from Marcel Revon. So influenced, she developed her own poetic system which she then called cinquain.
These short, unrhymed poems consisting of twenty-two syllables distributed as 2, 4, 6, 8, 2, in five lines were related to but not copied from Japanese literary styles. Though she devised this form in 1909 – 1910, most of the fifteen poems she saved were written between 1911 and 1914. An early death at 37 from tuberculosis prevented her from exploring the genre further.
Published posthumously, in 1915, with her other works as The Complete Poems, cinquains came to be well-known only through the efforts of Carl Sandburg in his anthology, Cornhuskers, 1918 and Louis Utermeyer’s Modern American Poetry, 1919. The most famous of the few Crapsy cinquains from her The Complete Poems is:
Three silent things:
The falling snow… the hour
Before the dawn… the mouth of one
Cinquains, though they have never become very popular, have always attracted a number of poets who are still developing the form.
(notes taken from Those Women Writing Haiku by Jane Reichhold)