Poetry Form - The Cinquain

The Cinquain Verse Form
by J. Zimmerman.

The Cinquain:

  1. is a form invented in the USA by a poet rejoicing in the name of Adelaide Crapsey.
  2. has five lines and is sometimes called "an American equivalent of the Japanese haiku or tanka" [as in Babette Deutch's Poetry Handbook.
  3. Uses syllabic counts, like the Japanese haiku or tanka, increasing the number of syllables in each line until the final line, which returns to two syllables as in the first line:

    Lines 1 to 5 have 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables

    Some exercises (e.g. falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/poeform.htm) suggest that to learn the format one can use a different topic for each line:

    Line 1 2 syllables; one word, giving title
    Line 2 4 syllables; two words, describing title
    Line 3 6 syllables; three words, expressing action
    Line 4 8 syllables; four words, expressing a feeling
    Line 5 2 syllables; another word for the title.

But that limitation should be discarded as soon as possible.


by Adelaide Crapsey

These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow ... the hour
Before the dawn ... the mouth of one
Just dead

By contrast, the quiz.ravenblack.net site (page poeticform.pl) has a less positive position on the cinquain:

Yes, I'm rubbish.
I am the cinquain, and
Believe (unjustly) I'm clever.

A Last Word.

Just because you start with the intention of writing a cinquain, you do not have to keep your poem in that form if it does not work for you. Your attempt to write a formal poem may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise. And you may decide that you choose to end up with a poem in a different form, perhaps even a prose poem.

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