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Quatrains are four line stanzas of any kind, rhymed, metered, or otherwise. Like the couplet, there are many variations of the quatrain. Some of the more popular as passed through tradition are:
How To Pantoum
- Alternating Quatrain- a four line stanza rhyming "abab." From W.H. Auden's "Leap Before You Look"
The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.
- Envelope Stanza- a quatrain with the rhyme scheme "abba", such that lines 2 and 3 are enclosed between the rhymes of lines 1 and 4. Two of these stanzas make up the Italian Octave used in the Italian sonnet. This is from Auden's "Look Before You Leap"
The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.
- In Memoriam Stanza- this form was used by Tennyson in his poem "In Memoriam" and is an envelope stanza written in iambic tetrameter (four feet). From "In Memoriam"
O thou, new-year, delaying long,
Delayest the sorrow in my blood,
That longs to burst a frozen bud
And flood a fresher throat with song
- Redondilla- this is a Spanish form written in tetrameter with any of three rhyme schemes: "abba", "abab" or "aabb".
- Italian Quatrain- this is an envelope stanza written in iambic pentameter. Doubled (eight lines), it becomes an Italian Octave and the first half of the Italian Sonnet.
- Sicilian Quatrain- this is iambic pentameter that rhymes "abab", from the English Sonnet. Like the Italian Quatrain, it is a form of the Heroic Stanza becuase it is written in iambic pentameter.
Hymnal Stanza- this is an alternating quatrain that is written in iambics. Lines 1 and 3 are iambic tetrameter, and lines 2 and 4 are iambic trimeter. It is also a form of the Common Measure which rhymes abcb instead of abab as in the hymnal. From Robert Burns' "A Red, Red Rose"
O, my luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O, my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
The alternating meter often makes one or the other more pronounced, in a way pulling the poem along. For this reason, the hymal stanza can be a good catalyst for a narrative voiced poem.
- Pantoum- this Malayan form is a struggle for any poet. Good luck. The pantoum is made with any number of alternating quatrains with lines of any length and meter. The catch is that lines 2 and 4 of each stanza become lines 1 and 3 of the succeeding stanza. They are to be repeated in their entirety (if possible) which is what makes the pantoum such a frustration and pain. Each stanza, then, becomes interlocked with the stanza above and below it by rhyme and line, giving the poem a unique feel not unlike that of a villanelle: obsessive and tedious. And to make matters worse, the pantoum's last stanza takes lines 1 and 3 of the first stanza and uses them as either lines 1 and 2, or 2 and 4, but in reversed order. The pattern looks like this:
||D1 or A2
Also sometimes a
A2 or A1
couplet of A2 A1.
D2 or D1
A1 or D2
And there you go, though you can use as many number of stanzas you wish, four for the above pattern was just arbitrary number. This is "The Eunuch Cat" by Lewis Turco:
She went to work until she grew too old,
Came home at night to feed the eunuch cat
That kept the mat warm and its eyeballs cold.
She walked, but ran to wrinkles, then to fat,
Came home at night to feed the eunuch cat,
Then went to bed, slept dreamlessly till eight,
And waked. She ran to wrinkles, then to fat.
She fixed her supper, snacked till it was late,
Then went to bed, slept dreamlessly till eight--
Must I go on? She'll feed the cat no more.
She fixed her supper, snacked till it was late,
Then died at dawn, just halfway through a snore.
Must I go on?--she'll feed the cat no more
To keep the mat warm and its eyeballs cold.
She died at dawn, just halfway through a snore;
She went to work until she grew too old.
I find the pantoum can get too repetitious for my liking, escpecially if it's written with fairly short lines because the repeated lines cycle faster. The repeated lines should elicit a definite emotional reaction in the reader, but they are not intended to necessarily agitate. An easy way to avoid the whole agitation business is to think about the pantoum line in terms of caesura and enjambent. If a sentence ends in the middle of a line, then the natural pause and emphasis that comes at the end of the sentence can be lessened. This way the line becomes enjambed and the reader naturally follows to the next line. When lines are continually end stopped, the repetons can seem overly repeated. If you want certain lines to receive greater attention, then, perhaps end stop them. If you want the line to be read more on the casual, natural side, then use enjambent. I try to vary the enjambents in my own pantoums, as variety is an effective way of keeping the poem fresh.
It is near impossible to repeat the repetons in their entirety, and I can't honestly say I've run across many that do. This is okay. Oftentimes you can rearrange a few words to put a little spice in the line, or add or subtract a word here and there. The pantoum can become acoustically overbearing, and slight varieties in line can help shrink that feeling.
Also, don't worry too much about what word to end each line on, or what vowel sound you want to rhyme the sound on, these worries will only get in your way. Let the poem decide what word comes next and where it fits in the line. The pantoum is a demanding form, and no poet needs to add any extra vices to the structure. Have fun, it only gets easier.
-- Damon McLaughlin
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Last Updated 8/23/99